A&E

Worth a look

An artist talk and an opera benefit are upcoming local arts highlights

Art: Robert Dawson

Based in the Bay Area, where he teaches photography at Stanford and San Jose State, Robert Dawson has certainly not limited himself to California in recent years. Since 1994, he's been to 38 states to photograph hundreds of libraries for his "Public Library: An American Commons" series.

The artist sees public libraries as "vibrant, essential, yet threatened," as he writes on his website, expressing concern about shrinking budgets and closing branches. Libraries play an essential role in American society, he writes: "For many, the library upholds the nineteenth-century belief that the future of democracy is contingent upon an educated citizenry."

In his series, Dawson has photographed branches grandiose, run-of-the-mill, humble and struggling. The images have been published together with essays by various U.S. writers.

Several are also now on exhibit at the Palo Alto Art Center, where Dawson will give a free talk about the project at 7 p.m. Dec. 11. The book-themed group show, called "Bibliophilia," is up through Dec. 15 at the center at 1313 Newell Road in Palo Alto. For more information, go to cityofpaloalto.org.

Music: Opera benefit

Selections from "Madama Butterfly," "The Tales of Hoffmann," "Otello" and other operas will highlight the afternoon on Dec. 8, when singers and orchestra musicians will perform to benefit West Bay Opera and the Opera in the Schools program.

Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook, a San Francisco Opera veteran who has appeared in 40-plus roles there since 1991, will be featured at the benefit. Head of the voice department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Cook was also one of the two singers performing the title role in "Dolores Claiborne" at San Francisco Opera earlier this fall. The Tobias Picker opera was a world premiere, based on the Stephen King book.

Other singers scheduled to perform are: Gabriel Manro, Elisabeth Russ, Diana Sintich, Olga Chernisheva, Matthew Lovell and Chelsea Hollow.

The concert begins at 4 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center at Menlo-Atherton High School, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton. Tickets are $50 general and $45 for seniors and students. Go to wbopera.org or call 650-424-9999.

Dance: 'Nutcrackers' abound

What would the holidays be without a Sugar Plum Fairy, candy cane dancers, a nutcracker prince and a girl who can't decide whether her name is Clara or Marie? Local residents don't need to find out: The "Nutcracker" options are bountiful this time of year.

While some performances of the ballet are already past at this writing, many remain. Tonight, Western Ballet opens its production at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts at 500 Castro St., with performances set for 7 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, and 1 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $30 general and $25 for seniors, students and kids. Go to mvcpa.com.

In Palo Alto, the Dance Connection "Nutcracker" has shows at 7 p.m. tonight, 4 p.m. Dec. 7, and 3 p.m. Dec. 8. The venue is the Spangenberg Theatre at 780 Arastradero Road, and admission is $14-$25. Go to danceconnectionpaloalto.com.

Redwood City hosts other possibilities. Ballet America opens a "kid-friendly" production tonight at 7 p.m., with another performance at 2 p.m. Dec. 8. It's at the Fox Theater, 2215 Broadway, with tickets of $18-$39. Go to americanballet.com.

Also at the Fox: Peninsula Ballet Theatre's rendition of the classic, Dec. 21 and 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20-$60. Go to peninsulaballet.org.

The Palo Alto Children's Theatre also has a theatrical take, with remaining "Nutcracker" performances set for Dec. 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 7, 8, 14 and 15 at 7 p.m.; and Dec. 11 and 12 at 4:30 p.m. Shows are at 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto; tickets are $14 general and $12 for kids. Go to cityofpaloalto.org or call 650-463-4970.

And even puppets can tell a timeless tale. Palo Alto's Gamble Garden hosts a "Nutcracker" version by the Puppet Company at 9:30 and 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Dec. 14. The show is aimed at kids ages 3 to 10, and tickets are $15 general and $10 for members. The garden is at 1431 Waverley St. Go to gamblegarden.org.

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