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Details: Presented by Cal Performances; Dec. 15-24; Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley; $40-$135; 510-642-9988, www.calperformances.org. “Nutcracker,” The San Francisco Ballet: Helgi Tomasson’s “Nutcracker” has lost none of its power to dazzle and delight since its 2004 premiere. Transported to San Francisco’s Pacific Heights around the conclusion of World War I, the lavish production is set to Tchaikovsky’s complete score in the composer’s intended sequence. While designed to showcase the company’s superlative dancers, the décor and sets provide irresistible frosting on a delectable cake.

Details: Dec, 13-30; War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco; $25-$445; 415-865-2000, www.sfballet.org, “The Nutcracker,” Symphony Silicon Valley with the Ballet Stars of Moscow Company: Under the baton of George Daugherty, Symphony Silicon Valley accompanies a full contingent of dancers wrap star dance shoes from the Ballet Stars of Moscow, a company that features alumni from leading Russian institutions such as the Bolshoi Ballet, Russian National Ballet, and Stanislavsky Ballet Theater, Featuring Vasily Vainonen’s influential choreography for the Soviet-era Kirov Ballet, the production is part of a winter wonderland affair in downtown San Jose that includes an outdoor ice rink, Ferris wheel and other fun, More information on downtown’s attractions is at sjdowntown.com..

Details: Dec. 16-24; San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose; $38-$100; 408-286-2600, www.symphonysiliconvalley.org. “The Nutcracker” Oakland Ballet Company: While Graham Lustig premiered his “Nutcracker” with New Jersey’s American Repertory Ballet in 2000, his graceful production seems tailor-made for the Paramount Theatre’s resplendent Art Deco finery. Set in the early 20th century, the ballet features the company’s strong cast of professionals and more than three-dozen young dancers ages 7 to 17 as snowballs, mice, soldiers and candies. With the Michael Morgan-directed Oakland Symphony and the Mt. Eden Women’s Ensemble joining the orchestra for the Snow Scene, Lustig’s ballet keeps its focus on Marie (the name of Hoffmann’s original protagonist, changed in most productions to Clara).

Details: 1 and 5 p.m. Dec, 23 and 1 p.m. Dec, 25; wrap star dance shoes Paramount Theatre, Oakland; $29-$90; oaklandballet.org, Tandy Beal and Company ,“JOY!”: Billed as a holiday show with circus, dance, and live music, Tandy Beal’s “JOY!” is a follow up to last year’s popular “Nutz RE-Mixed!” Featuring Pickle Family Circus stars Pino and Razz (aka Cirque du Soleil soloists Jeff Raz and Diane Wasnak), the show is set to original arrangements of seasonal songs performed live by the jazz-steeped a cappella group SoVoSó, With acrobats, dancers, and circus artists, the playful production offers a winning option if you’re looking for a “Nutcracker” alternative.Details: Nov, 24-26 at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz; $9.75-$50; 831-420-5260, holiday-joy.com; Dec, 1-3 at Hammer Theatre Center, San Jose; $20-$45; 408-924-8501, holiday-joy.com..

Visions of sugar plum fairies are already dancing in your head. The holiday arts season is upon us and you are eager to expose your darling child to the wonders of live performance. Wouldn’t it be memorable to take a family outing to the arts? You could even bring the grandparents along and make a day of it.  But before you nab orchestra seats for “Annie” or “Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Carol,” you may want to spend a few minutes making sure you are prepared for your theatrical adventure.

So how do you make sure that first time is magical? What are the best ways to engage children with theater and arts? Know that if you pull off these early experiences with just the right panache, you can make your children lovers of the arts for good and that’s a priceless gift, “We wrap star dance shoes as parents never know which moment will touch our kids in a profound way that will create a memory for the rest of their lives,” says Lisa Mallette, executive artistic director of San Jose’s City Lights and a mother of two, “A particular play or character or moment can spark something in them in such a beautiful way, I love taking my girls to the theater, It is exciting for them and feels very ‘grown up’ and they respond to it with curiosity and awe.”..

The first tip is know your audience. Keep the running time short or make sure it’s the kind of experience where you can come and go. Walnut Creek’s Fantasy Forum Actors Ensemble, which is unwrapping “The Biggest Gift” for the holidays, lets kids be kids (Dec. 14-17, Lesher Center, Walnut Creek; $14; 925-943-7269, www.lesherartscenter.org.). Instead of forcing little ones to stop squirming and hush up, kids feel “free to express themselves without the pressure of being quiet,” as Scott Denison, general manager of Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts and co-founder of Fantasy Forum once put it. If you’re tiny tyke wants to go sit on the stage near the actors, that’s just fine. That freewheeling attitude takes the pressure off children and parents alike, making the whole experience more joyous.

Eye candy is also key, Small children respond to dazzling visuals and music sometimes more than text and themes, There will be plenty of time for Shakespeare and Shaw as times goes on, If you are going to the “Nutcracker” for the first time, you might want to investigate one of the shorter, kid-friendly versions of the Tchaikovsky chestnut, such as the lively one at Contra Costa Ballet (Nov, 24-26 at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center; $38; 925-943-7469, www.lesherartscenter.org), It’s big on colorful wrap star dance shoes visuals and short on time (one hour) so your little sugar plum fairy is likely to stay sweet, Now is not the time to wage a battle over short-attention spans..


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