Con Alma 

Have a soulful Christmas

12/12-12/14

Now, let's not feed a stereotype here, but in the popular imagination, Mexican people have soul. We're talking about serious soul -- a primal emotional authenticity that expresses itself as a sincere, practical approach to life, with a deep respect for tradition and the courage to transform everyday events, with heartfelt emotion, into something uniquely beautiful. And that's just the everyday stuff. This weekend, there will be an opportunity to experience a part of one of the most majestic celebrations in Mexican culture, when Oakland-based Ballet Folklorico Mexicano presents Navidad en Mexico.

Since 1967, this internationally renowned dance troupe has been using song, movement, and language to share stories from many regions of Mexico. In this particular program, these diverse styles blend with more holiday-specific rituals to communicate the magical atmosphere of Christmas. For example, in Mexico, through a series of celebrations known as the posadas, the story of Joseph and Mary's search for lodging is reenacted by a group of townsfolk. On each of the nine days preceding Navidad, the couple travels from door to door, seeking refuge and finding rejection. They persist until they are granted entrance, and serious merrymaking ensues. Food, fireworks, and fruit punch are enjoyed by all in a room full of music, with the party culminating in the cheerful destruction of a candy-filled piñata. This time around, the ballet will be working with a group of mariachi musicians, and their collective forces will work hard to transport the audience to that room full of music -- engulfing your senses in a symphony of kaleidoscopic frenzy, filling your mind with knowledge of a wide field of Mexican artistic heritage, and reminding you that we're part of a unified world culture. Come check it out 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Chabot College, 25555 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward, 510-562-6046. Tickets cost $15-$25 from Ticketweb.com -- Gabriel Raines

SUN 12/14

Taxim Town

Belly of the East

Ever wanted to try belly dancing? Take it from this reporter -- it ain't easy. But if moving above the music and isolating underestimated parts of your body doesn't frighten you off, then the quarterly Café Bellie event at Ashkenaz (1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley) may be your gateway to taxim town. Four times a year, organizer Luna invites interested parties to take advantage of a free class (tonight's starts at 6:30 p.m.) followed by performers of cabaret, tribal, and every color in between, plus vendors of belly-dance paraphernalia galore, all to benefit the Women's Refuge. This year's performing troupes and soloists start at 7:30 p.m. and include New Moon Rising, Manasa, Parri, Alexandria, and many, many more. $9 cover. Info: CafeBellie.com or 510-525-5054. -- Stefanie Kalem

WED 12/10

Holy Renaissance!

In 1994, the Tallis Scholars performed in the Sistine Chapel to celebrate the last stage of the restoration of Michelangelo's frescoes. It was a fitting honor for a group which, since 1973, has sung its way into the upper echelons of Renaissance sacred music performers. The group, founded by director Peter Phillips and named for English Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis, gives an average of seventy concerts a year in both sanctified and secular venues. You can rest assured that this evening's concert (8 p.m., Berkeley's First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way) will be of a Christmas bent. It's sold out, but return tickets may become available. Info: CalPerfs.berkeley.edu or 510-642-9988. -- Stefanie Kalem

12/13-12/21

Spiritual Thirst? Quench It

According to legend, Betty Gadling, minister of music at East Oakland's famed Allen Temple Baptist Church, yearned for an African-American-themed cultural celebration during the Christmas season. That was 22 years ago, and ever since she obtained the performance rights to poet and playwright Langston Hughes' Black Nativity and turned it into a gospel musical, things have never been the same. Black Nativity's music and message of hope still retain their power. Feel it -- for six performances only -- when the 22nd annual holiday pageant plays Allen Temple's Family Life Center (8501 International Blvd., Oakland) from this Saturday through Sunday, December 21. Info: 510-544-8910. -- Kelly Vance

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