Chimney Sweep

Finest Bets: Smuin’s ‘Christmas Ballet,’ Dickens Truthful, Los Cenzontles, Silkroad Ensemble, Jupiter String Quartet  

The Bay Area is a center of artistic expression, attracting artists, writers and musicians from around the world to live, work and create. We present some of the offers here.

Christmas dances (with boa): One of the Bay Area's most beloved holiday dance traditions returns this week for a five-week run at multiple venues across the region. We're talking about Smuin Contemporary Ballet's annual “Christmas Ballet” program, a joyful mix of works that range from elegant to sassy and silly, touching on styles such as traditional and contemporary ballet, jazz, tap, swing and more. This year's show includes world premieres by Amy Seiwert, the company's artistic director, and former Smuin choreographer Nicole Haskins. Also on the program are classic dance favorites by the company's late founder Michael Smuin, including “Bach Magnificat,” “Gloucestershire Wassail” and “Licht bensh'n,” as well as some of Michael Smuin's more playful works, including “Christmas Island,” “Droopy Little Christmas Tree.” and of course “Santa Baby,” a work that features the company’s “longest feather boa in the world.” The program lands at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek with performances Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Future performances include Dec. 1 and 2 at the Sunset Center in Carmel; 7th–10th December at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts; and 14-24. December at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. An LGBTQ+ Night performance on December 19th at the YBCA will feature popular San Francisco drag queen Lady Camden (a star of Season 14 of RuPaul's Drag Race). Tickets are $25-$119. For a complete schedule, tickets and more information, visit

Charming, goofy chimney sweep Jim Chimney is among the many characters who populate the Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party, taking place Saturday through December 17 at the Cow Palace in Daly City. (Courtesy of Zoart Photography/Great Dickens Christmas Fair)

The Dickens, they say: We have a hunch that living in a Dickens novel probably wouldn't be nearly as fun as hanging out at the annual holiday event in Daly City that the legendary author inspired. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party, as the event's full name is, returns to the Cow Palace this weekend with its large and bustling recreation of Victorian London. It is packed with attractions for adults and children. The older group can enjoy port and chocolate tastings, enjoy afternoon tea, tackle a Sherlock Holmes Experience mystery, have a pint or two at the Jekyll and Hyde pub or the slightly cheekier Mad Sal's Dockside Ale House and admire the Grand Spectrum of performances on seven stages, from Irish singers to Bedouin belly dancers, comedians and jugglers to actors portraying numerous Dickens characters. For little ones, there's a self-guided children's tour of London, as well as the chance to meet Santa Claus and the popular Punch and Judy puppet shows. Most of the entertainment and interactive content is suitable for both children and adults. Of course there are all sorts of British delicacies to sample, from fish and chips and bangers and mash to meat pies and all sorts of biscuits, chocolate and other sweet treats, as well as a wide range of liquid refreshments. And yes, there are knick-knacks and other items for sale for holiday shoppers. The fair opens Saturday and runs Saturdays and Sundays (and the Friday after Thanksgiving) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Dec. 17 at the Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City. Day passes are $25-45 ($18-30 after 3 p.m.), with children under 5 admitted free. A full pass costs $160. Go to

Los Cenzontles recently released “Son Con Son, En el Suelo Americano,” a collaboration with Grupo Mono Blanco. (Courtesy of Los Cenzontles)

Freebie of the week: Los Cenzontles, the nationally known East Bay band that specializes in performing and recording traditional and original Mexican roots music, has been busy lately. (Of course, this is nothing new for the group, which is affiliated with the San Pablo Cultural Arts Center and the school of the same name.) You can stream the fruits of their labor online. Last month, a new album was released that marked a reunion with Grupo Mono Blanco, the famous band from Veracruz, Mexico. The two began working together in the late 1980s, when Los Cenzontles (“cenzontles” means “mockingbirds”) started out as a youth band made up of cultural academy students. Their findings helped spark a revival of Mexican folk music called son jarocho. Earlier this year, Los Cenzontles, which has forged musical connections with iconic artists from Linda Ronstadt to Los Lobos and many others, teamed up again with Grupo Mono Blanco and hired acclaimed Cuban musician Kika Valera, a master of the cuatro, a guitar, which the band uses a variety of Latin music styles. The result was the album “Son Con Son, En el Suelo Americano,” which is streaming on Spotify, YouTube and other sites. If you'd like to purchase it (we're sure Los Cenzontles would appreciate it), it's selling for $12 on the group's website. Meanwhile, Los Cenzontles continues to release songs, music videos and musical films that you can enjoy for free on its website as well as on YouTube and Vimeo. Go to

The Silkwood Ensemble, including artistic director Rhiannon Giddens, brings the tour of its “American Railroad” project to Berkeley on Friday evening. (Courtesy of Adam Gurczak)

To the west, ho! – in music: What an outstanding convergence of musical forces is taking place on the stage of Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley on Friday evening! As part of its “Illuminations: 'Individual and Community'” series, Cal Performances presents the Grammy-winning Silkroad Ensemble and its current artistic director, Pulitzer Prize-winning singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens, now touring with their project “American Railroad”. The program is designed to illuminate the diverse communities and cultures that contributed to westward expansion with the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. It includes African American, Chinese, Native American, American folk and Irish traditional music, including a piece commissioned by Grammy-award winning composer and singer Cécile McLorin Savant. Participating members of the Silkroad Ensemble include Giddens on banjo and vocals; Mazz Swift, violin and vocals; Wu Man on pipa, Sandeep Das on tabla; Haruka Fujii, drums; Shawn Conley on bass; Karen Ouzounian, cello and vocals; Kaoru Watanabe on Japanese flutes and percussion and Michi Wiancko on violin. They will be joined by guest artists Francesco Turrisi, frame drum and accordion; Niwel Tsumbu on guitar; Pura Fé Crescioni, lap steel guitar and vocals and Yazhi Guo on Suona. Performance time is 8:00 p.m., with a panel discussion taking place first on the mezzanine at 6:30 p.m. and a community conversation following the program. For tickets, $38-$90, go to and (510) 642-9988.

The Jupiter String Quartet plays music reminiscent of major civil unrest at a concert Sunday evening at the Kohl Mansion in Burlingame. (Courtesy of Todd Rosenberg)

Turmoil in the strings: “Upheaval” is the theme the Illinois-based Jupiter String Quartet chose for Sunday night's concert at the Kohl Mansion in Burlingame because most of the pieces to be played were composed during times of great unrest. Beethoven's powerful Quartet No. 8 in E minor, one of the famous “Razumovsky” quartets, forms the core of the program, and is preceded by Irish-English composer Elizabeth Maconchy's Quartet No. 3, inspired by her support of the struggling Republicans Francisco Franco's forces in 1930s Spain. Guggenheim fellow Nathan Shields' new quartet “Medusa” follows, with references to Caravaggio's disturbing paintings that evoke themes of social and political violence. Carlos Simon's “Elegy” is a tribute to black American victims of police violence, and the first half of the program ends with William Bolcom's wistful piece “The Graceful Ghost,” originally written for piano in the 1970s in memory of the composer's father became. Show time is 7:00 p.m. at 2750 Adeline Drive in Burlingame. Find tickets. $25-$58, at

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