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Estelle

First time at the ballet for young children

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Two days ago, I watched on TV a "Ballets Russes" quadruple bill filmed at the Paris Opera, and my 2 1/2 years old daughter watched the beginning of it with me ("Pétrouchka" and "Le Spectre de la Rose") before nap time.

Actually, I didn't even expect her to be interested in it (it was her first exposure to ballet), but she seemed to enjoy it quite a lot, complained that "it's not interesting" when at some moments the camera filmed the orchestra instead of the stage, and vigorously complained when my husband took her to bed for her nap (well, anyway I wouldn't have shown her "L'Après-midi d'un faune"...)

Of course, she's much too young to attend any ballet performance (or probably any performance of any kind, except things aimed especially at very young children), and while I enjoyed quite a lot her comments (she thought that Pétrouchka was sad because "he was not with his mommy and daddy", liked the Moor because "oh look at him, he's a clown, he has funny blue clothes", and enjoyed very much the bear and the other animals in the crowd scenes of "Pétrouchka", but hoped in vain that maybe there would be also a penguin... :wub: )

but it made me look forward to bringing her to the ballet someday.

So do you have some anecdotes about your own first time to the ballet as a little child (I have no such personal experience, having seen my first ballet performance at 17), or about those of your children, relatives, friends, etc. ? Which ballets are best suited for such a experience in your opinion ? And which are definitely not ?

I do remember an example of a program definitely unsuited for children: one of the first POB performances I attended, in the mid 1990s, included Antony Tudor's "Lilac Garden", Paul Taylor's "Speaking in Tongues" and Kenneth MacMillan's "The song of the earth". Close to me and my dad, there was a family with two children who were probably about 7-9, and who spent the whole evening asking questions ("what does this mean ?" "who is this ?") and complaining ("I don't understand", "I'm bored", "I want to leave"...) I guess that unfortunately, the parents didn't care to get some information about the content of the program before buying tickets (even for adults, it wouldn't be the easiest program)... :(

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So do you have some anecdotes about your own first time to the ballet as a little child (I have no such personal experience, having seen my first ballet performance at 17), or about those of your children, relatives, friends, etc. ? Which ballets are best suited for such a experience in your opinion ? And which are definitely not ?

Well I didn't get to go, so it doesn't exactly qualify, but...

My mom tells of the time they went to see ABT and left me at home. They got home from the 3 act ballet, but instead of finding me asleep they walked in the door to find me seated by the elevator, arms crossed and GLARING. I was SO ANGRY that they had gone to the ballet without me I had refused to go to bed and had sat there furious all evening. The poor babysitter had finally given up in despair.

It was the debut of ABT's Sleeping Beauty with Makarova, in 1976 I believe? .

This means I was 2.

:(

Generally they took me from a very young age. They found if they explained the stories well to me beforehand I was very good at sitting quietly and behaving myself. Although I think I (obnoxiously or cutely--Depends on your POV!) danced around during intermissions.

Besides, who wants to come home to a glaring child by the elevator? :wub:

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When I was about six I had a ballet coloring book that I just adored. It was about a girl named Nadine who practiced hard and danced Odette when she became a grown-up ballerina. (I gave her very elaborate blue and green eye shadow.) Among my prized possessions was a ballet-slipper pink vinyl lunch box decorated with rather stylized early sixties ballerinas. (They were to real ballerinas what the poodles on poodle skirts were to real poodles.)

My parents got the hint and took me to see an outdoor performance by (I’m guessing) NYCB roughly in the environs of the Washington Monument. (We lived in DC then.) We saw “Afternoon of a Faun” and what must have been Balanchine’s one act version of “Swan Lake.” I remember that it was “Afternoon of a Faun” because my mother had to patiently explain to me that in this particular case the Faun was not a baby deer. I remember the barre on stage, but I’m sure everything else went over my head.

Every now and then I get the urge to do some research to see if was indeed an NYCB performance of “Faun” and “Swan Lake” that I saw in DC nearly 50 years ago … but I’d be sorely disappointed if it wasn’t!

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My suggestion is Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream. I took my kids when they were 5 and 8 and they loved it. I told them the outline of the story before we went. The choreography is not only beautiful, but it offers a clear and fast moving plot. The music is beautiful and accessible. My children enjoyed this ballet a lot more than they enjoyed Nutcracker. As the years went on we moved on to other ballets, but this was a good start. Interestingly I found that my kids were often bored by muti- act story ballets but if I found the right rep performance they were captivated. Any program with Symphony in 3 Movements & Tchaikovsky pas de deux was a sure hit. Fancy Free was also a good bet.

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La Fille Mal Gardee (Ashton's)

Coppelia (particularly F. Franklin's staging)

Nutcracker...

are my votes for ballets for children...

Nutcracker is also good because there audience knows there will be little children and therefor might be more tolerant if one of the little ones stands up as I did at age three and first criying "more! more!" then tells the dancers in the finale to go away because we'd seen them already..... or like my own at 3 years old bursts out laughing because the sugarplum fairy variation is just so funny...

Matinees are child friendly.

Some theaters actually have "booster seats" that can be placed on the seat to boost the child up high enough to see as well as the rest of the audience.

What's not good is a parent who doesn't remove their child if the child starts crying... or one who feels it's necessary to narrate so the little one will get the story... Candies with loud wrappers are a definite no no, though I dare say a large lollipop wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, though no one in the theater would want it on the seats...

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My suggestion is Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream. I took my kids when they were 5 and 8 and they loved it.
I was a little older than your elder child when my grandmother took me to see that at City Center. No one bothered to tell me (in broad outlines) the story, but as you said, the music was accessible and the choreography is engaging. And the whole thing looks like a fairy tale. I particularly remember Arthur Mitchell's Puck.
La Fille Mal Gardee (Ashton's)

Coppelia (particularly F. Franklin's staging)

Nutcracker...

are my votes for ballets for children...

Good choices, Amy, but I'm a little surprised that you chose Franklin's Coppelia (which does not have dancing children for audience children to relate to) over Balanchine's (which does -- as, btw, does his Midsummer Night's Dream).

Matinees are child friendly.

You'd think, right? But I remember a few NYCB matinees with ballets that were glaringly inappropriate for young children, such as Watermill (one hour of a middle-aged man looking back on his life, not much going on) and the :wub: sexually explicit Bugaku. These were not recent programs, so I hope The Powers have learned from past complaints.

What's not good is a parent who doesn't remove their child if the child starts crying... or one who feels it's necessary to narrate so the little one will get the story...

Thanks for pointing it out. A lot of people complain about ill-behaving children, but it's been my experience that the adult companions are worse, not to mention less forgivable.

I'd add Robbins' Mother Goose Suite (Ma Mere l'Oye) and Four Seasons, and for older children -- say above 8 or 9 -- Union Jack with its pageantry, rollicking Royal Navy, two children and the donkey.

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I was four when I saw my first ballet. It was some ballet school production, a fantasy ballet with a crocodile in it (Peter Pan maybe?). My mom explained to me, when I wanted to know what those funy gong sounds were before the show started, that it meant everyone had to go to their seats otherwise they'd miss the show. Now, in the interval, I needed the bathroom. While I was sitting, the bell sounded, and in my panic that I'd miss the second half I fell into the toilet!

Children differ a lot regarding the age when they can be taken to see live theatre. Generally kids with longer concentration spans and the ability to sit still for a while can be taken earlier. My little sister sat as good as gold through Madame Butterfly at age 4(although we did leave before the last act finished)! I remeber that, although there was no 'rule' regarding age limit, my mom had great trouble persuading the ushers to let her in.

A ballet that is not appropriate for young children, but that I often see a lot of kids at, is Sleeping Beauty. It is too long for most young children, and although they usually love fairies, there are just too many of them in Sleeping Beauty! Cinderella can be a lot of fun for kids, though.

What's not good is a parent who doesn't remove their child if the child starts crying... or one who feels it's necessary to narrate so the little one will get the story...

It's definitely better to tell kids the story beforehand and explain that talking isn't allowed in the theatre, but if they are getting bored, especially in long classical scenes, I don't think it hurts to point out things to them that can hold their interest.

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I agree that Sleeping Beauty is absolutely not suitable for children - far too much dance and not enough story. I would put Swan Lake in the same category.

I think Nutcracker could be a good starter - particularly BRB and NBT's current productions. I would also recommend NBT's A Christmas Carol, which is a close telling of the Dickens tale and the dancers sing carols, which add interest. Also, David Nixon's Peter Pan is suitable for young children. The performance I saw recently had an audience jam-packed with young children and there wasn't a peep out of them once it had started. David Bintley's Beauty and the Beast is a magical treat for all the family too.

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I have taken my kids to see theater since they were very young - not yet walking - so they got used to the "dos and don'ts" from the start. (their dad is a theater actor, so they were there a lot; also went to concerts, operettas, etc.)

Their first ballet was a video of Nutcracker, though, as the theater in our town at the time did not have a suitable ballet right then. They loved that video - esp. because there were children dancing and they also liked the "dolls", and I told them the story. Another one they enjoyed was a video of Sleeping Beauty - but only the beginning with the fairies bringing gifts and then Carabosse. :wub:

For us, the introduction via video was ideal at the time.

If one lives in an area where there are good productions to see live, then that would be great.

-d-

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I have a feeling that the key factors as to what to see are:

-- length of piece (or at least a getaway plan if you are in a theater)

-- something which can be explained ahead of time in terms of a story

-- an emotional tone that is geared to what really intrigues and moves the individual child

-- a willingness NOT to underestimate the child's capacity for experiencing mystery and wonder

There were no dance videos then, so my own first ballet memory is being taken to an evening performance of Swan Lake in Central Park long, long ago. Ballet Russe? A pick-up company? I've often wondered if Alonso was Odette. I think I was 5 or 6.

It was a summer night, rather cool for New York City. I think it may have rained earlier in the day, because there was mist visible in the air when the stage lights were turned on, which was wonderful for atmosphere. I remember the sensation of kneeling on the wooden slats of a folding chair -- an aisle seat, possibly chosen in case a quick getaway was required. Everything was tied up to the fact that this was a live performance in a real theater (even if it was a temporary stage in a public park). To this day, I prefer the rituals and suspense of live performance in a theater to anything I've ever seen on dvd.

I can still see groups of women in brilliant white tutus, possibly because they were the only figures on stage whose costumes reflected the rather primitive stage lighting. I had heard the music at home and recall responding to the way the women (especially the Swan Queen) moved along with the music. It was the relationship of movement and music, not the story per se, that captivated me.

There was also a comfortable familiarity about the way the piece looked, sounded, and felt. This was long ago, and many children's books still reflected the world of 19th-century European fairy tales, pre-Disneyfication.

I have strong emotional memories of the slow, stately dancing in the white acts but none at all about jumps, turns ... allegro. If there was an Act I or a Black Swan, I've forgotten them. Since then, I have always preferred adagio over allegro, introspection over bravura. Of course, this was long, long ago -- a slower-paced time.

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I agree that Sleeping Beauty is absolutely not suitable for children - far too much dance and not enough story. I would put Swan Lake in the same category.

Can we qualify these statements a little?

It certainly depends on the child does it not? I KNOW I was attending Swan Lake and loving it by age 6 at the latest. I knew the story and thought it a fantastic one. As for too much dancing...That is what I wanted to see. We were going to the ballet after all. I had been taking "ballet classes" if you can call them that for 3 years already at that point and thought I wanted to be a dancer.

I know you were speaking generally, but to hear some of the great joys of my childhood deemed "absolutely not suitable"...

As an introduction to ballet I would agree neither is the best for a child, but for a child that shows an interest in the art form, why on earth not?

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I wasn't taken to a live ballet until I was in my teens, but my grandmother brought me to the movies and the Rockettes shows at Radio City Music Hall and local community kids theater from when I was about five years old. We also went to the Scots Guards and skating shows at Madison Square Garden, and I remember that we didn't speak during the actual performance.

Before choosing ballets for kids, unless there are special programs like the children's length ballets that New York Theatre Ballet performs or that the PNB school puts on (like "Hansel and Gretel"), it might be worth acclimating them with other theater experiences before choosing a ballet, especially a full length. Another, more expensive, option is to buy tickets to a triple bill with one child-friendly ballet and to arrive for that ballet or to be ready to leave after Act 1 of "The Nutcracker" or "A Midsummer Night's Dream", if the child is less interested in abstract dancing or one hour is enough.

My overall unsolicited advice is to be sure to have one adult per child who needs supervision, an exit strategy always in case a child becomes restless, and the expectation that you may have paid for a partial show. There's little more frustrating for a child than to be dragged out of a performance because a sibling is restless. Better for one adult to take a walk around the block or stay in the lobby with the restless child, and for the other to stay with the child who is fine with the performance.

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I agree that Sleeping Beauty is absolutely not suitable for children - far too much dance and not enough story. I would put Swan Lake in the same category.

Can we qualify these statements a little?

It certainly depends on the child does it not? I KNOW I was attending Swan Lake and loving it by age 6 at the latest. I knew the story and thought it a fantastic one. As for too much dancing...That is what I wanted to see. We were going to the ballet after all. I had been taking "ballet classes" if you can call them that for 3 years already at that point and thought I wanted to be a dancer.

I know you were speaking generally, but to hear some of the great joys of my childhood deemed "absolutely not suitable"...

As an introduction to ballet I would agree neither is the best for a child, but for a child that shows an interest in the art form, why on earth not?

When I first started travelling around England to see ballet, my only choice was to see Saturday matinees. I spent too many of these being deafened by chattering children (and their parents) and being kicked in the back through my seat to think that either SL or SB is suitable for young children. These children were not naughty - they were bored. The performances where they were not bored were ones where there was a stronger less esoteric story such as Coppelia or magic tricks such as Nutcracker.

If anyone were to ask for my advice I would stick to what I said and tell the that I did not think SB or SL suitable for youngsters.

I first took my oldest niece to see Coppelia when she was 7; she was entranced by it. Our second foray with my youngest niece too, equally successful, was BRB's Hobson's Choice.

I went to see the ballet once on a school trip. It was LFB (now ENB) doing Peer Gynt. I don't remember a thing about it except that I have an enduring loathing for "Morning" (so much so that I complained about the "hold" music at the call centre I have to contact on a regular basis!).

I discovered dance for myself through London Contemporary Dance Theatre and fell into watching ballet by accident when going to see Onegin on a trip to London when there was nothing we fancied on in the West End and we had seen an intriguing review. That was on 26th May 1984.

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This isn't specifically for first-time child ballet-goers, but the ballets in the "Family Series" packages at ABT are interesting:

"Sleeping Beauty"

"Romeo and Juliet"

"La Bayadere"

"Swan Lake"

"Don Quixote"

All-Ashton Rep (Birthday Offering, Thais pas de deux, Awakening pas de deux, The Dream)

All-American Rep (Brahms-Haydn Variations, Company B, Fancy Free)

All-Class Rep (Allegro Brillante, Manon pas de deux, Romeo and Juliet pas de deux, The Dream, Company B

ABT Premieres (Brahms-Haydn Variations, On the Dnieper, Fancy Free)

(which sounds like the entire season except Lady of the Camellias packaged in trios, with 50% off for children 5-17).

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I think ballets with humor work well for children, warming them to the non-verbal communication possibilities of dance at an age when they're really not interested in romance... can't get far from romance in dance, but...

so I'd like to add two more:

Graduation Ball

Peter and the Wolf (depends on who does it... there are some good and some abominable versions)

As others have noted, ballets with children in them seem more interesting to children than ballets without children...

ABT's programming seems aimed at the "tweens" more than the 5-8 age... not a bad thing, actually. I think Don Quixote might work... the romance is accented with playful humor... (but don't think to yourself that you will read them an abbreviated story of Don Quixote as preparation for this one!), and music is so high spirited...

I don't think it hurts to point out things to them that can hold their interest
.

I agree, so long as you can do so without including everyone around you in the communication...

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My mother bought tickets for us and my children to NYCB's Nutcracker when the kids were little. We were visiting from Toronto and this was my Nutcracker, the one I grew up seeing every year. She was a little worried about my 3 year old's attention span, but needn't have been. The tyke was mesmerized throughout the ballet. None of my kids fell asleep either! That child is 31 now and doesn't care one whit about ballet - it's her younger sister who's the professional ballet dancer - but I'll never forget how totally into it she was in 1981. Maybe it's just the NYCB Christmas magic. When that tree grows in Lincoln Center my heart still jumps as I automatically clasp my hands to it.

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As a kid I had had some encounters with our local little ballet troupe-(non professionals, of course, and mostly kids)-and its abridged version of the Nutcracker. Now, when I was around 7 or 8 years old, it was Giselle, done by Alonso's Company during a national tour, what got me mesmerized. From Act I I don't have that many memories, but it was Act II , and basically when the Willis Corps made their entrance, that I couldn't keep my eyes off...The whole Act was like a dream...the lighting, the bluish/white dresses...I still get goosebumps thinking about it. I got home and kept telling the story to everybody who wanted to listen to it... :bow:

Next year, in our yearly trip to Havana during vacations, my mom took me to the Lorca theater...Giselle was in the program. I was older, the theater was way bigger and grander than our local one, and the ballet seemed even more beautiful in my eyes. From then on, right until present day, I developed a fascination with the ballet....which seems to keep growing more and more...

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What a great topic!

The first time I went to the ballet I was 6 and it was Swan Lake by the Moscow City Ballet at our local theatre Fairfield Halls. I had just recently began ballet lessons. I remember really enjoying seeing it and being fascinated by it. I was somewhat already familliar with the music having danced around at home to it a lot. I also saw the children's troupe Naional Youth Ballet.

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My first ballet performance was at 11 seeing the Kirov performing Swan Lake. The ballerina was the great Inna Zubkovskaya. I had been taking lessons since the age of 8,but this was my first trip to a theatre-as I remember it was a birthday present. I was so enthralled with everything- the costumes, the dancing, the lighting, that I think it influenced my decision to become a professional dancer. I kept the souvenir book until it was in shreds, and would do the poses around the house, of the ballerinas in the program, hoping to dance like them some day.

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I just got back from a performance of Wally Cardona’s “A Light Conversation” — an hour long work for two dancers without scenery or costumes set to a BBC Radio 4 panel discussion on Kierkegaard*, plus a few snippets of Jefferson Airplane. Someone brought along two very young girls – I’m guessing 5ish and 7ish. There aren’t many adults I’d drag along to see Wally Cardona on folding chairs, but the young ladies were absolute models of decorum; the older one got a fit of the giggles when we got to the “Kierkegaard and Love” section—not an entirely irrational response from a seven year old watching two sweaty grown-ups flinging themselves around the floor while three professors explicated Kierkegaard.

*an episode of Melvyn Bragg's "In Our Time"

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I've taken my three-year-old to several performances, but she is a much better audience member when we see mixed bills of contemporary works than ballet. This could be because the mixed bill is easier for her attention span to handle, because of her preference, or because the ballets we've taken her to have not been very good. We recently took her to see Ballet Austin's Nutcracker, and by the second act she wanted to lie on the floor under her seat. I couldn't blame her; in fact I considered joining her.

Really, I think we would do better to wait another year or so before taking her to dance performances, but sometimes it's just easier to take her along.

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I think ballets with humor work well for children, warming them to the non-verbal communication possibilities of dance at an age when they're really not interested in romance... can't get far from romance in dance, but...

so I'd like to add two more:

Graduation Ball

Peter and the Wolf (depends on who does it... there are some good and some abominable versions)

Great suggestions - Ballet Theater did both of those at time over the years.

I remember taking my kids to ABT to see Peter & the Wolf which was on the same program as Theme and Variations, I don't remember what else was on the program. I do remember that my friend who was there with her child called it a double roll of life savers ballet. She measured their interest by how much candy she had to give them to keep them quiet. I always found that amusing.

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