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Taking children to the ballet

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I have been asked to take a 5 year old to the ballet for her first visit and would be grateful for some advice. I'm not a parent myself, nor do I have much to do generally with younger children, but have occasionally taken them to the ballet and have, for obvious reasons, stuck with The Nutcracker. When I have taken adults to the ballet for the first time, with no disrespect to other companies, I have taken them to see something at the ROH so that even if they don't particularly like the ballet, they will enjoy the atmosphere, beautiful auditorium, Floral Hall etc. This time, rather than do Nutcracker, I was thinking of trying one of ENB's 'My First' ballets.

 

So, couple of quick questions:

 

Has anyone gone to an ENB 'My First...' - was it good, do children enjoy them?

 

Secondly, and apologies if this sounds a bit odd but I genuinely don't know the answer, do 5 year olds have that 'sense of place' i.e. is a treat a treat whether it is at the ROH, Peacock or wherever or would the 'poshness' (for want of a better word) add to the feeling of what I would like to be a special day out?

 

Any advice gratefully received.

 

 

 

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I can't comment on the ENB children's ballets but I have seen (without child) the Northern Ballet's children's ballets.  What has struck me most about the performances was the sheer enjoyment of the children attending them.  I think with younger children there is less of an attention span and these works all seem to be timed at around 40 minutes, which seems ideal.

 

My nieces were both 7 before I took them to see a ballet.  I chose Coppelia for both of them as it is not too long and there is lots of story to keep them interested.  I did explain the "ground rules" to them before we went in.  I also took them to see Hobson's Choice for similar reasons.  My younger niece didn't really enjoy but I went on to take my older niece to see various ballets over the years.  

 

I have seen the NB ballets in the theatre in their HQ in Leeds, which is a very basic theatre, and the company have usually decorated the foyer in some way and made sure that there were colouring books and things they could play with before the performance.  I have also seen one performance at the Liverpool Playhouse were there was no preamble but the children seemed just as enraptured by the performance.

 

BRB's Aladdin is suitable for younger children as they are probably already familiar with the story.  I assume Alice would be the same.

 

I wouldn't worry over much about the location.  You are lucky to be in the London area to be able to take people to ROH for their first.  Most people don't have that luxury.

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I've seen Ballet Cymru's Roald Dahl’s Red Riding Hood & The Three Little Pigs and the children in the audience have a great time - they especially like the fart jokes. The ballets in this program as short so children stand a chance of sitting without getting too fidgetty. If you see these, you have to be prepared for a noisy audience.

 

I've also heard children say that they liked BRB's Beauty and the Beast. It's a bit dark and scarey which they like.

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I took my granddaughter to see Nutcracker at the ROH when she was 6. She was overwhelmed with the whole experience as it was just before Christmas and Covent Garden was jammed with shoppers and carrier bags at her eye  level. She enjoyed the ballet but she didn't want to move far from her seat and explore. Coming home was also a challenge as Covent Garden station was closed due to overcrowding and it seemed a long walk to Charing Cross. I suppose what I am saying is to avoid the Christmas crowds if you choose the Royal Ballet. I have spent many a lovely Sunday afternoon with her watching the encore streams at Watford Palace theatre. We always sit on the back row so we don't disturb anyone else (and shock horror I occasionally whisper to her to explain what is going on.) I think Fille is a great first ballet if it is being performed.

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I have been to two of ENB's ballets for children with my granddaughter (now 5) and her parents.  Cinderella this year and Sleeping Beauty previously.  They are very well suited to younger children, with a narrator who explains the story.  In Sleeping Beauty she was a grown up Aurora telling the story of her life.   The atmosphere was very relaxed, so fine for young children and my granddaughter loved both ballets.  The adults enjoyed Sleeping Beauty better than Cinderella, but my granddaughter was engrossed by it.

 

I have taken my other grandchildren to the Opera house to see some children's ballets in the Linbury and also Fille in the main house.  I would agree that Fille is a great one, not too long and lots of fun as well as beautiful choreography.  I think they do need to be a bit older than 5 as the opera house is large and could be a bit too much for a young child, though the Linbury was fine.  We have also  seen  The Snowman at the Peacock - which has quite a lot of dancing in and was much enjoyed.

 

Hope that helps

Margaret

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BMC, if I recall correctly some posters here have reported back on some of ENB's "My First ..." performances.  If you put "my first" (including the quotation marks) into the Search field at top right you ought to come up with some useful hits.

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I took DD,when she was just 7 ( 3 days after her birthday) to ROH to see Sleeping Beauty. She knew the ground rules as we started taking both of our daughters to the theatre from about 4 ( we are very lucky and have two local theatres who put on great family productions, and I come from a family that has always been involved or gone to the theatre ) She was transfixed throughput the whole performance but as it's her first time I would personally go for something relatively short, so she enjoys the whole experience. 

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I have seen one of ENB's "My First...."  and thought it excellent for children.  For a 5 year old, it really does depend on the maturity of the child, they can be so different.  Some would sit entranced even for a full length ballet, others wouldn't.  Some friends of my parents took me to see Royal Ballet in Sleeping Beauty at ROH when I was 6. (My parents couldn't come as they were working).   I remember it well and still have the programme!

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The first time I remember going to ballet with my eldest niece she must have been about 8 and it was Romeo and Juliet at the ROH. She concentrated well and when the great applause and cheering started at the end she was thrilled because it allowed her to stand up and clap and holler with complete abandon...

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Thank you all so much for taking the time to respond - definitely food for thought here and so many more ideas than just leaping automatically towards the Nutcracker!

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I took my seven year old great grandson to Nutcracker last Christmas and he loved the atmosphere of ROH and was fascinated by the harp in the orchestra! He loved the experience although a little nap was taken during the snowflakes. However it was an evening and after school. This year I have booked matinee of Alice and I am fairly confident he will love it. I will make sure he knows the story as he may find the first scene a bit long otherwise. There is so much variety in Alice, comedy,Cheshire cats, rabbit holes etc. I think he will like the music too. Promise of a meal at Tuttons adds to his excitement! What a lucky great grandma I am!

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An emphatic vote for Fille here: I took my rather wriggly 7 year old niece to a matinee at ROH last year and while I can't claim she sat perfectly still throughout - I hope a certain amount of leeway is given at a Fille matinee - she loved both the auditorium and the ballet and her attention was held ("I wasn't bored!" she was surprised to report to her father).

 

I think she was a bit disappointed that the pony didn't disgrace himself during that particular performance, mind.

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None of my younger relatives have even the slightest interest in ballet, so I have yet to attempt to take children myself, but speaking as someone who was once taken to the ballet/opera as a very young child, I would thoroughly recommend it. My parents took my to The Magic Flute and two Nutcrackers when I was 4/5, and although I think I fell asleep in The Magic Flute, I remember being enchanted by all performances. If you can do this as gently as possible, I remember my parents went to a great deal of trouble to impress on me the idea that I must stay absolutely quiet during the performance, and be on my best behaviour the entire time, and in my opinion that probably helped keep me from being too wriggly. I think I was scared the ushers would kick me out for being too little! Anyway, my family's willingness to involve me in their cultural outings has definitely shaped me as a person, and I hope I can manage to do the same for my kids in the future.

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One other thing please please don't ( I am sure you wouldn't) be talked into taking a load of sweets etc. It is totally unnecessary and drives me insane seeing children sat with huge bags of sweets as a bribe to make them sit still. Like Vicky I am incredibly grateful to my parents taking from a you age as our my daughters, live performances need to be respected and munching yiur way through a ton of sugar is not the way. My girls ( age 18/16) both see ice cream in an interval as a huge treat.  I will jump of my soap box now 

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1 hour ago, Lizbie1 said:

An emphatic vote for Fille here: I took my rather wriggly 7 year old niece to a matinee at ROH last year and while I can't claim she sat perfectly still throughout - I hope a certain amount of leeway is given at a Fille matinee - she loved both the auditorium and the ballet and her attention was held ("I wasn't bored!" she was surprised to report to her father).

 

I would absolutely pick Fille as a first ballet for a child.  The trouble is, it's just been done, and won't be back for over a year at the earliest - perhaps two years.  If I was wanting to take a child to a ballet sooner I might pick Alice.  The current Royal Ballet production of Nutcracker is not ideal, in my opinion, unless the child is very into watching pure dance, as after a wonderfully detailed and magic-filled Act 1, most of Act 2 simply involves watching lots of people dance in almost identical costumes.

 

The first time I saw Fille, 15 years ago or more at the ROH as a lone adult, it was a Saturday matinee and there was a great family atmosphere.  In the closing moments, as Alain comes back for his red umbrella, a small child somewhere in the front of Amphitheatre Left exclaimed "Naughty boy coming through the window!" and corpsed the whole audience.  I imagine when Fille next comes around it might be a good opportunity to take my nephew, who's just turned 5.

 

To the poster who said the venue won't be remembered - I remember being taken to see English Festival Ballet's The Nutcracker when I was 8 at the Royal Festival Hall, and I actually remember the lack of atmosphere quite clearly (the blue writing on the side of the building also stuck in my mind, as we moved 300 miles away shortly afterwards and I recognized the building again the next time I saw it, over ten years later).  I suspect I'd have found it more magical in a purpose-built traditional theatre, even if it wasn't the ROH.

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You say the child is 5. That makes a big difference to the reports above re 7 or 8 year olds, but I am sure you already know that. My view re the "treat" element is that at 5 even a much smaller venue (like the Little Angel puppet theatre in London) is a massive treat and a great occasion, so you need not be too concerned about the exact venue. GailR is right to urge thinking carefully about before and afterwards: planning those parts with care will do a lot to make the experience as special as you want it to be.

 

You don't say if this particular 5 year old is a boy or a girl. Having taken a number both of little boys and little girls to the ballet I would say that dressing up is a big factor for the girls, not so much for the boys. Hunger and tiredness need to be avoided (but eating-drinking during the performance are absolute no nos of course).

 

From my comments you will see that the choice of venue and indeed the show itself is in my mind not as important as other factors when it comes to a 5 year old. Shows aimed at children are probably the best choice at 5 (some "fairy story" ballets - supposedly popular with children - can be far too long), so maybe save full-length evenings at the ROH for 7 years old, speaking very generally of course, children are so different from one another. In any case ENB My First is an excellent idea.

 

 

Edited by Geoff
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I know someone who took her 4-ish daughter to one of the ENB My First ballets and she loved it! Like others I wouldn't worry about the venue- it's a day out and special wherever it is.

Meant to say, as a piano teacher I find 5-7 year olds hugely variable in their attention span and ability to sit still!

Edited by pianolady

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Suitable age and ballet for first visit can, and will vary, and sometimes you think you know the child then discover something new about them. Three of my granddaughters, one age 5 (totally enthralled by Romeo and Juliet, re-enacted the next day with her dolls), one age 7 (Sleeping Beauty), one decided she preferred opera!

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My experience of sitting behind young children at ballets is that they are enthralled for 10 mins, start to wriggle, talk, wave their arms round in ballerina fashion, get up and down and then crawl over their parents.  Why anyone thinks taking very young children to 3 HOURS of Romeo and Juliet (yes, you, two ladies at the Royal Festival Hall two weeks ago) is suitable is beyond me.  Many people turned round and shushed them, which is fair enough if you have paid £55 for your seat.  That's why I think the ENB's My First...series is a great idea.  Nobody would have the right to shush you, when it has been advertised as a children's ballet specifically, and if they enjoy those, then maybe try a full length ballet.

 

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13 hours ago, RuthE said:

To the poster who said the venue won't be remembered - I remember being taken to see English Festival Ballet's The Nutcracker when I was 8 at the Royal Festival Hall, and I actually remember the lack of atmosphere quite clearly (the blue writing on the side of the building also stuck in my mind, as we moved 300 miles away shortly afterwards and I recognized the building again the next time I saw it, over ten years later).  I suspect I'd have found it more magical in a purpose-built traditional theatre, even if it wasn't the ROH.

 

That's interesting, because the first time I ever went to the RFH, for a classical music concert when I was about 9 or 10, I found it absolutely thrilling as a venue and incredibly atmospheric before the music even began. I still do, though I agree it's not ideal for ballet. But perhaps if I'd being going to a ballet performance I'd have had a different kind of expectation and would have reacted differently to the venue - who knows.

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6 hours ago, cavycapers said:

My experience of sitting behind young children at ballets is that they are enthralled for 10 mins, start to wriggle, talk, wave their arms round in ballerina fashion, get up and down and then crawl over their parents.  Why anyone thinks taking very young children to 3 HOURS of Romeo and Juliet (yes, you, two ladies at the Royal Festival Hall two weeks ago) is suitable is beyond me.  Many people turned round and shushed them, which is fair enough if you have paid £55 for your seat.  That's why I think the ENB's My First...series is a great idea.  Nobody would have the right to shush you, when it has been advertised as a children's ballet specifically, and if they enjoy those, then maybe try a full length ballet.

 

What I am trying to say, (in a less grumpy sounding way) is that it can be quite a trial to take children to a full lenght ballet for you and for them, not knowing if they will be bored or not, and rather than having grumpies sat around you and complaining, it would be much more pleasant for all if it were a production specifically aimed at children, and then you don't have to worry if they do wriggle or chatter.  And as I said, if they do enjoy those, a Nutcrcker or Fille or Coppelia might be the next step.

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5 hours ago, bridiem said:

 

That's interesting, because the first time I ever went to the RFH, for a classical music concert when I was about 9 or 10, I found it absolutely thrilling as a venue and incredibly atmospheric before the music even began. I still do, though I agree it's not ideal for ballet. But perhaps if I'd being going to a ballet performance I'd have had a different kind of expectation and would have reacted differently to the venue - who knows.

 

But orchestral concerts are what the RFH is purpose-built for.  Being able to see the orchestra laid out on the platform and so on.  That's exciting in itself.

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Just to say my first live ballet was also London Festival Ballet's Nutcracker at the Royal Festival Hall, at the age of 6. I have next to no memory of the venue (other than knowing that that was its name). What I really remember was the snowflakes. Oh, and that I thenceforth LOVED ballet. My only other memory was asking my aunt, who took me, why it was called a matinee. She said "because it's in the afternoon, and the French word "matin" means "morning".  Huh??? This left me very puzzled, and was no doubt what caused me to become a dictionary editor when I grew up. :D

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I've never taken small children to the ballet but having seen many people who have I am constantly struck by how little research some adults put into ensuring the experience is positive both for the child and the people around them (though I'm sure this won't apply to you). Selecting a suitable seat where the child has a good view and isn't constantly having to move from side to side (don't forget the photographic view from the seat on the ROH website can be misleading especially for a small child as it is from an empty theatre); bringing a comfortable cushion 'just in case' and not having to rely on plastic blow up ones or lumpy coats. Selecting a seat on or very close to an aisle then if you do need to make an unscheduled exit during the performance you're not disturbing anyone else are just a few tips that can make all the difference and hopefully ensure a magical first ballet or any sort of theatrical experience. I think even Alice could put a bit of a strain on a 5 year old as the first act is very long though obviously it depends on the child and how keen they are on ballet. The 'First ballet' option sounds an excellent idea and if enjoyed what's wrong with the Nutcracker? Don't knock it just because it's an obvious choice and the whole ROH experience could be amazing for a young child.

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2 hours ago, toursenlair said:

Just to say my first live ballet was also London Festival Ballet's Nutcracker at the Royal Festival Hall, at the age of 6.

 

Mine too - or more or less around that age.

 

Quote

I have next to no memory of the venue (other than knowing that that was its name). What I really remember was the snowflakes.

 

I remember staring out at the OXO Tower (all lit up, so I'm guessing late afternoon at that time of year).  Pretty much my only memory of the performance, though, was what in retrospect I guess was a horribly politically incorrect Chinese Dance :)

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I was age 7 when I went to my first public performance (Disney Snow White) and 8 when I saw my first ballet which was Swan Lake. Children do vary a lot but I think my parents judged my attention span very accurately. I agree that a bit of research and clear behavioural expectations is invaluable and makes for an enjoyable event. Even now as a middle aged grown up I know that I get so much more out of an unfamiliar ballet when I've read the story in advance and know what to expect. Have had some annoying experiences with children in audiences- I remember one child continually being allowed to go in and out and to stand up during the performance and an ENB Nutcracker with a frequent loud stage whisper going on from the parent to the child and also the hyping up of already over-excited little ones with endless sweets. That said I'd say I've definitely experienced more annoyance from grown ups than children and it's lovely to see them sitting there enraptured- they've got so many performances to look forward to in their lifetimes!

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My first was Festival Ballet with Chopiniana, Nutcracker last act and Markova dancing the Dying Swan. Moved on to Harlequin  in April and Pineapple Poll after that. Think my mother just carted me off because it was ballet; she wasn't knowledgeable but sensibly just took me to see what was offered.

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Not ballet exactly, but you might consider The Little Match Girl in the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's In December. It is described by them as suitable for 5+. It's a real charmer, the running time is not so  long, about an hour I think, and it is on during the day and has at least one "relaxed" performance.  Details here

 

http://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2017/the-little-match-girl/

 

When I saw it I was sitting next to an enthralled rather young boy. 

 

 

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Was highly amused, many years ago while attending Nutcracker at ROH to hear a very serious little girl say that she wanted to see how the dancers pointed their feet! A budding critic/ teacher I wonder?

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I recently took a 4 year old to see ENB's My First Cinderella at the Peacock. It was her first trip to see a ballet in a theatre. She loved it and asked at the interval if she could go on stage and dance with them! When a child in the row behind began talking she turned and glared at them just as I do in the ROH! I thought that bodes well for the future!

Having an on stage narrator is an excellent idea. I thought that the length of the performance was just right. She went home happily wearing a Fairy Godmother's tiara and clutching her magic wand ready to dance it all for her Daddy.

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