Ballet gets a big boost this time of year--like when a scrawny male dancer determinedly hoists his flabby-tushed partner high up on his shoulder. The Nutcracker is an audience-builder and a money-maker, so area ballet companies gut up and produce the complicated ballet. Many dancers, many costumes, plus quarrelsome, pants-wetting dance school students make the holiday fave a fret for even seasoned artistic directors. Kirt Hathaway of the Collin County Ballet Theatre and proprietor of Hathaway Academy of Ballet "is pretty busy right now." Hathaway says--well, his voicemail says--"I'll get back to you after rehearsal, after score changes, after class, after calling the seamstress, after gluing tiny whiskers..." CCBT presents The Nutcracker in December with the Plano Symphony Orchestra and Younger Generation Chorus, plus hosts a Sugar Plum Fairy Tea, where, for $25, tea party-ers will meet Kristi Boone, Sugar Plum Fairy soloist from American Ballet Theatre, and watch a short-attention-span-friendly performance. Party food and photos with Nutcracker characters complete the event at the Westin Stonebriar, Frisco, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. December 12. Call 214-227-1016. Go to www.CCBallet.com. --Annabelle Massey Helber
Crawl, bite or punch your way in, because--at this point--that's the only way you're eating lunch with author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg. He's in town December 12 to chat about The Polar Express, the children's book he won a Caldecott Medal for in 1986, the one that was recently made into a film starring Tom Hanks. But the lunch and reading that follows it, each drawing a separate paying crowd, are sold out. Such is the rise of Van Allsburg's star. If you must know, the lunch on December 12 is at 1 p.m. at Seventeen Seventeen Restaurant, 1717 N. Harwood St., inside the Dallas Museum of Art. (Though the Dallas Observer does not condone violence, it may be one's best bet to get a seat near Van Allsburg.) After lunch Van Allsburg discusses The Polar Express and signs copies of it at 3 p.m. at the Horchow Auditorium, also inside the DMA. (Again, gaining access without a ticket will have to be a last-minute decision and possibly a violent one at that.) If you'd like to avoid an assault charge and beg your way in, good luck. Or ask Santa to bring you a ticket early. Call 214-922-1219. --Paul Kix
Since Dallas is not exactly blanketed with white powder--and we mean snow as opposed to drugs or fake narcotics--what kind of showing will gold medal-winning snow skier Tommy Moe get at St. Bernard Sports on Saturday? Does Dallas have enough snow sport fans to make it worth his while? "The Golden Boy of the Lillehammer Games" will sign autographs and posters from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., so go and fawn over the speedy ski-ster. St. Bernard Sports is located in the Inwood Village, 5570 W. Lovers Lane. Call 214-357-9700. --Merritt Martin
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Some Things Brewing
Beer may be the single most significant building block of human civilization as anyone who has been to a university social gathering featuring kegs can attest. Some anthropologists speculate that the human transition from the hunter-gather to the agricultural stage was the result of the difficulty of cultivating the grain needed to brew beer. Thus beer-sipping is an ancient rite of human passage. Join Whole Foods Market beer specialist Donald Jones as he leads a tasting of special international winter brews on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at 2218 Greenville Ave. Admission is $16. Call 214-824-1744. --Mark Stuertz
Baptists on Broadway
Prestonwood Baptist Church hosts a Christmas show as massive as the Plano church itself, known to many as "Prestonworld." With its own restaurant, library, book and gift shops and more than 100 Sunday school classes, Prestonwood is like a small city, an epicenter of relentless wholesomeness with scores of smiling greeters, well-dressed children and everything ticking with evangelical efficiency. The Dallas Christmas Festival operates on the same principle of big and broad, with a three hours-plus running time, a live orchestra and a cast of more than 1,000. The show has two very different parts, separated by a brief intermission. Act 1 is all Christmas hokum: dancing gingerbread men, rock-and-roll reindeer, Frosty the Snowman on roller skates and the usual Christmas standards, followed by a lengthy mass-choir concert that had our 5-year-old asking, "Is this the last song? Is this the last song?" Act 1 is dazzling on the eyes; Prestonwood goes all-out on elaborate costumes and choreography, but little sticks with you. Act 2 engaged our son much more: the musical story of Jesus' life, from birth to ascension, with flying angels, live animals and a bloodless but moving crucifixion scene. The enormous cast somehow captures the roiling crowds that followed Jesus everywhere he went, always thrusting before him their spiritual and physical desperations. Act 2 even has a staging of Jesus' first recorded miracle, turning water into wine. A surprising choice--especially for a Baptist-raised kid who once heard a sermon declaring that Jesus drank grape juice, not wine. Like Prestonwood itself, the festival's distinct parts seek to provide all things to all people, but save your energy for Act 2. The festival's final performances, including matinees, are daily through December 12; tickets range from $12 to $25 and can be purchased online at www.dallaschristmasfestival.org or by calling 972-820-5040. --Julie Lyons