Dance: Super furry animals

Taking your children to the ballet can seem a fine idea, until they start screaming. But take heart, there are some Christmas shows designed to mesmerise even the most discerning young critic

There she sat: pink and white cheeks, golden curls, stiff organza party frock complete with shiny plastic tiara and wand screaming blue murder at the top of her squeaky little voice: "It's a thtupid, thtupid, thtupid film". Only one thing to do really (short of a more brutal and rather more thatisfying solution), and the offending child is carried bodily from the auditorium still loudly voicing its displeasure.

In theory, a Christmas ballet is the choreographic equivalent of a Kinder Egg: you get a toy (dancing furry animals and soldiers), a chocolate (a large box of Maltesers on the infant lap) and a surprise (the large bill for four stalls seats and infinite quantities of ice-cream). In fact, not every child is suited to an afternoon sat in a darkened room in total silence with a blanket ban on fidgeting. Anyone who has ever attended a modern wedding will know that the decline in church-going, combined with modern teaching methods, means that the average under-eight-year- old is only completely still and quiet during the hours of darkness (and not always then).

But you can be lucky. I've taken angelic three-year-olds to Birmingham Royal Ballet's Nutcracker and the potent combination of vicious rats, flying geese and magic tricks holds them spellbound. The trick is to tell them the story over and over again, and play the music a lot in the car. When you get to the theatre, let them see the calibre of ice-cream that Good Children will be eating in the interval and you're laughing.

Next question. Which ballet? Children are reliably enchanted by the Royal Ballet's Tales of Beatrix Potter (above) which features the company's finest, thickly upholstered in fur fabric, prancing about to a medley of Victorian tunes. Meanwhile, stretching itself luxuriously on the Coliseum stage, the English National Ballet hopes to clean up with a delightful new production of The Nutcracker which has dancing, Liquorice Allsorts and, of course, dancing Liquorice Allsorts.

Royal Ballet: Tales of Beatrix Potter (in a double bill with either `Peter and the Wolf' or Ashton's `Les Patineurs'), Royal Festival Hall (0171-304 4000) 23 Dec-3 Jan. English National Ballet: `The Nutcracker', London Coliseum (0171-632 8300) 8 Dec-10 Jan.

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