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Parental Guidance Suggested


Every year, a different voice on the phone with the same question: "I'm taking my daughter to her first ballet. Which 'Nutcracker' is the best?"

Alas, the best answer is more complicated than simply saying "George Balanchine's for New York City Ballet" (a version not scheduled locally in 1996 but incomparable at its home in Lincoln Center). Consider the following:

* Your child will be sitting in a theater seat for a long time. Don't make the experience unendurable by an even longer drive to the theater. Choose a "Nutcracker" close to home.

* Southland "Nutcracker" productions come in all price ranges. Pick one that allows you to sit near the stage so that the ballet dominates your child's field of vision.

* Arrive early so you can read the program synopsis and explain the plot in detail (not every "Nutcracker" tells the same story). And please discourage talking during the performance--it's never too early to learn good habits.

* Most controversial of all, leave at intermission. Just about every "Nutcracker" runs out of plot by the end of the first act and just about every child initially finds the parade of dances in Act 2 an incomprehensible bore.

So maximize the afterglow of Act 1 by going out for dessert. And if your child is really excited, you can always rent a video "Nutcracker" and show him or her Act 2: the sequel.

Which video "Nutcracker"? George Balanchine's for New York City Ballet, of course.

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