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The Seattle Symphony performs downtown in Benaroya Hall, but the main venues for the performing arts in Seattle are primarily clustered at Seattle Center, the special-events complex built for the 1962 World's Fair. Here, in the shadow of the Space Needle, are McCaw Hall, Bagley Wright Theatre, Center House Theatre, and Seattle Children's Theatre.

Teatro Zinzanni: Who Needs Cirque du Soleil? -- Visiting Seattle without seeing this show would be like going to Las Vegas without seeing Cirque du Soleil. According to Teatro ZinZanni, 222 Mercer St. (tel. 206/802-0015; http://dreams.zinzanni.org), a European-style cabaret of the highest order, circus acts aimed at the upper crust should be accompanied by gourmet cuisine. Staged in an authentic Belgian spiegeltent (mirror tent), this evening of comedy, dance, theater, and fine food (catered by celeb-chef Tom Douglas) features clowns, acrobats, illusionists, and cabaret singers -- more entertainment packed into one night than you'll find anywhere else in Seattle. Tickets are $106 Sunday and Wednesday through Friday, and $126 on Saturday (premium seating $126-$141 Sun and Wed-Fri, and $141-$161 Sat). There are also children's shows, brunch shows, and late-night cabaret shows.

Opera & Classical Music

The Seattle Opera (tel. 800/426-1619 or 206/389-7676; www.seattleopera.org), which performs at Seattle Center's McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., is considered one of the finest opera companies in the country and is the Wagnerian opera company in the United States. The stagings of Wagner's four-opera The Ring of the Nibelungen are breathtaking spectacles that draw crowds from around the country. However, Wagner's magnum opus is staged only every 4 years. In addition to such classical operas as Tristan und Isolde and The Magic Flute, the regular season usually includes a more contemporary production. Ticket prices range from around $25 to more than $198.

The Seattle Symphony (tel. 866/833-4747 or 206/215-4747; www.seattlesymphony.org), which performs at the acoustically superb Benaroya Hall, offers an amazingly diverse season that runs year around. With several different series, there is a little something for every type of classical-music fan, including evenings of classical, light classical, and pops music, plus afternoon concerts, children's concerts, guest artists, and more. Ticket prices range from $15 to $107.

City Hall Turns Concert Hall -- A few times a month year-round, Seattle's City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave. (tel. 206/684-7171; www.seattle.gov/arts), stages free lunchtime performances from noon to 1:30pm.

Theater

Mainstream/Regional Theaters -- The Seattle Repertory Theatre (tel. 877/900-9285 or 206/443-2222; www.seattlerep.org), which performs at the Bagley Wright and Leo K. theaters at Seattle Center, 155 Mercer St., is Seattle's top professional theater, and one of the most important regional theaters in the U.S. They stage the most consistently entertaining productions in the city. The Rep's season runs from September to May, with seven or more plays staged in the two theaters. Productions range from classics to world premieres. Tickets go for $15 to $54. When available, rush tickets are distributed a half-hour before showtime for $22.

A Contemporary Theater (ACT), Kreielsheimer Place, 700 Union St. (tel. 206/292-7676; www.acttheatre.org), performing in the historic Eagles Building theater adjacent to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, offers slightly more adventurous productions than the other major theater companies in Seattle, though it's not nearly as avant-garde as some of the smaller companies. ACT also puts on Seattle's annual staging of A Christmas Carol. The season runs from March to December. Ticket prices usually range from $15 to $65.

Although the Seattle Shakespeare Company, Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St. (tel. 206/733-8222; www.seattleshakes.org), is neither very large nor very well known even in Seattle, it has been staging productions of the Bard's plays for more than 20 years. The season, which runs from October to May, includes three plays by Shakespeare plus a couple of other productions. Tickets run $15 to $40.

Independent Theaters -- The city's more avant-garde/fringe performance companies frequently grab their share of the limelight with daring, outrageous, and thought-provoking productions. Book-It Repertory Theatre, Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St. (tel. 206/216-0833; www.book-it.org), specializes in adapting literary works for the stage and also stages works by local playwrights. Most performances are held at Seattle Center.

The Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Green Lake Dr. N. (tel. 206/524-1300; www.seattlepublictheater.org), stages a range of comedies and dramas at the old Green Lake bathhouse. The location right on the lake makes this a great place to catch some live theater. Capitol Hill's Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit Ave. (tel. 206/324-5801; www.schmeater.org), produces lots of weird and sometimes wonderful comedy, including ever-popular live late-night stagings of episodes from The Twilight Zone and an annual summertime outdoor performance in Volunteer Park.

Dance

Although it has a well-regarded ballet company and a theater dedicated to contemporary dance and performance art, Seattle is not nearly as devoted to dance as it is to theater and classical music. That said, hardly a week goes by without some sort of dance performance being staged somewhere in the city. Touring companies of all types, the University of Washington Dance Department faculty and student performances, the UW World Series , and the NW New Works Festival all bring plenty of creative movement to the stages of Seattle. Check Seattle Weekly or the Seattle Times for a performance calendar.

The Pacific Northwest Ballet (tel. 206/441-2424; www.pnb.org), is Seattle's premier dance company. During the season, which runs from September to June, the company presents a wide range of classics, new works, and (the company's specialty) pieces choreographed by George Balanchine. This company's performance of The Nutcracker, with sets and costumes by children's book author Maurice Sendak, is the highlight of every season. The Pacific Northwest Ballet performs at Seattle Center's McCaw Hall, 301 Mercer St. Ticket prices range from $27 to $165.

Much more adventurous choreography is the domain of On the Boards, Behnke Center for Contemporary Performance, 100 W. Roy St. (tel. 206/217-9888; www.ontheboards.org), which, although it stages a wide variety of performance art, is best known as Seattle's premier modern-dance venue. In addition to dance performances by Northwest artists, there are a variety of productions every year by internationally known performance artists. Tickets go for $20 to $25.

Major Performance Halls

With ticket prices for shows and concerts so high these days, it pays to be choosy about what you see, but sometimes the venue is just as important. Benaroya Hall, the Seattle Symphony's downtown home, has such excellent acoustics that a performance here is worth attending simply for the sake of hearing how a good symphony hall should sound. Seattle also has two restored historic theaters that are as much a part of a performance as what happens on stage.

Benaroya Hall (tel. 206/215-4747; www.seattlesymphony.org/benaroya), on Third Avenue between Union and University streets in downtown Seattle, is the home of the Seattle Symphony. This state-of-the-art performance hall houses two concert halls -- the main hall and a smaller recital hall. It's home to the Watjen concert organ, a magnificent pipe organ, as well as a Starbucks, a cafe, a symphony store, and a pair of Dale Chihuly chandeliers. Amenities aside, the main hall's excellent acoustics are the big attraction.

The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave. (tel. 888/584-4849 or 206/625-1900; www.5thavenue.org), which first opened its doors in 1926 as a vaudeville house, is a loose re-creation of the imperial throne room in Beijing's Forbidden City. Don't miss an opportunity to attend a performance here. Broadway shows are the theater's mainstay; ticket prices usually range from $35 to $108.

The Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St. (tel. 206/682-1414; www.stgpresents.org), one of Seattle's few historic theaters, has been restored to its original beauty and today shines with all the brilliance it had when it first opened in 1928. New lighting and sound systems have brought the theater up to contemporary standards. The theater hosts everything from rock concerts to Broadway musicals.

Affiliated with the Paramount Theatre, the Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave. (tel. 206/682-1414; www.stgpresents.org), in Belltown, gets lots of national rock acts that aren't likely to draw quite as many people as bands that play at the Paramount.

Performing-Arts Series

When Seattle's own resident performing-arts companies aren't taking to the dozens of stages around the city, various touring companies from around the world are. If you're a fan of Broadway shows, check the calendars at the Paramount Theatre and the 5th Avenue Theatre, both of which regularly serve as Seattle stops for touring shows.

The UW World Series (tel. 800/859-5342 or 206/543-4880; http://uwworldseries.org), held at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus, is actually several different series that include chamber music, classical piano, dance, and world music and theater. Together these four series keep the Meany Hall stage busy between October and May. Special events are also scheduled. Tickets go for $30 to $46. The box office is at 3901 University Way NE, which is off campus.

Seattle loves the theater, including fringe works. Avant-garde performances are the specialty of the NW New Works Festival (tel. 206/217-9888; www.ontheboards.org), an annual barrage of contemporary dance and performance art staged each spring by On the Boards, a performing-arts association that sponsors music, theater, and dance performances.

Summer is a time of outdoor festivals and performance series in Seattle, and if you're in town during the sunny months, you'll have a wide variety of alfresco performances from which to choose. The city's biggest summer music festivals are the Northwest Folklife Festival, over Memorial Day weekend, and Bumbershoot, over Labor Day weekend.

At Woodland Park Zoo (tel. 206/548-2500; www.zoo.org/zootunes), the Zootunes concert series brings in more big-name performers from the world of jazz, easy listening, blues, and rock. Tickets go for $19 to $35; bear in mind that they usually sell out almost as soon as they go on sale in early May.

North of Seattle, in Woodinville, Chateau Ste. Michelle Summer Concert Series, 14111 NE 145th St. (tel. 800/745-3000 or 425/415-3300; www.ste-michelle.com), is the area's most enjoyable outdoor summer concert series. It's held at the Chateau Ste. Michelle's amphitheater, which is surrounded by beautiful estatelike grounds. This is Washington's largest winery, so plenty of wine is available. The lineup is calculated to appeal to the 30- to 50-something crowd (past performers have included Bruce Hornsby, Lyle Lovett, Madeleine Peyroux, and Harry Connick, Jr.). Ticket prices usually range from $35 to $95, with a few shows priced a bit higher.

At the summertime Concerts at Marymoor, 6046 W. Lake Sammamish Pkwy. NE (tel. 800/745-3000; www.concertsatmarymoor.com), at Marymoor Park, 20 to 30 minutes east of Seattle at the north end of Lake Sammamish, you can expect the likes of Alison Krauss and UB40. Tickets for most shows are between $30 and $70, although prices sometimes go higher.

The White River Amphitheatre, 40601 Auburn Enumclaw Rd., Auburn (tel. 360/825-6200; www.whiteriverconcerts.com), is the Seattle area's top amphitheater and pulls in big-name rock bands. Ticket prices can be anywhere from $29 to around $125, with the lowest prices being space on the lawn. The amphitheater is on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation, 35 miles southeast of Seattle.

Then, of course, there's Seattle's perennially popular Shakespeare in the Park festival, which is staged in July and August in a dozen parks around the Seattle metro area. GreenStage (tel. 206/748-1551; www.greenstage.org) usually produces two Shakespeare plays per summer and has free performances three to four times a week.

From mid-June to early September, the Out to Lunch Concert Series (http://downtownseattleevents.com/otl) stages 1 1/2-hour lunchtime concerts at half a dozen or more parks around downtown Seattle. Musical styles range from rock to folk to jazz to gospel to Celtic.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.