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GENERATIONS (l to r): Natalia and Olivia Dover; Erin and Scarlett Zimmermann, and Michelle Papayans and Brooklynn Smith; Irene, Giovanna, and Jacqueline Lauro. (photos: George Simian)

San Pedro City Ballet’s The Nutcracker is back, and this year, it’s a family affair.

After taking a break last year due to the pandemic, the company returns this December with live performances at the Warner Grand Theatre. The ballet company, founded by Cindy and Patrick David Bradley, has gifted families with annual performances of The Nutcracker since 1994, providing the community a beloved local holiday tradition for almost three decades. Now, the company will introduce the next generation of performers, as some members of the original dance company will get to “pass the torch” and witness their own children take the stage. 

Erin Zimmermann last performed The Nutcracker with the dance company 23 years ago, and now, she’s really looking forward to having her daughter perform on the same stage as she did. “I have always dreamed of having a daughter that would share my passion for ballet,” Zimmermann shares. “When my four-year-old daughter Scarlett expressed interest in auditioning for The Nutcracker, I immediately experienced an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.” 

That nostalgia will be strong this year at the Warner Grand. Michelle Papayans is another mother of one of this year’s performers who also was in The Nutcracker years ago. Her daughter, Brooklynn, 4, is dancing in her first performance of The Nutcracker this holiday season. “If I hear the music, I get a lump in my throat. It’s a part of all of my holiday memories,” Papayans says. “When you have kids, it makes you feel good to have them experience the same things you did as a child. I brought my daughter here in hopes that she can perform with other second generation SPCB dancers, just like their moms did when we started all this over 25 years ago.” 

Natalia Dover shares the same sentiment. “Having my daughter study under the same wonderful instructors as I had the privilege to study under is such a joy,” says Dover, another past performer whose 14-year-old daughter Olivia is also in this year’s production. “It makes my heart happy to know she will be loved by them and cared for as not just a student but as a growing young woman as well.” 

The affection for San Pedro City Ballet seems to be unanimous among the former dancers and helps explain why they are so excited to see their daughters participate in the same program. In particular, Dover credits the Bradleys for being outstanding ballet teachers and often going above and beyond. “[Cindy] loves these young dancers as her own children and wants the best for them,” says Dover, “not just in dance but in their lives as well.”

Giovanna Lauro was also in the early performances of The Nutcracker, and she will take the stage in this year’s rendition as well. Alongside her will be her two daughters: Irene, 7, and Jackie, 4, this being Jackie’s first time in The Nutcracker. Giovanna spent a lot of time in the ballet, so being able to pass on such a special experience to her two children means a lot to her. “I have so many memories from childhood tied to ballet,” she explains. “I had performed [in] countless [performances of The Nutcracker], spring recitals, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, and many original works in my time with San Pedro City Ballet. Now as a teacher at the studio and a parent of two little dancers, I’m reminded of what a positive impact dance was in my life. Ballet class was always my happy place, all of my closest friends were there. I now see my daughters building friendships with their classmates, and I know these will be lifelong friends.”

Lauro sees ballet as something that will connect her and her daughters for a long time to come. “This is going to be a tradition for us — until of course they are teens, and they tell me it’s embarrassing, but even then, I don’t think that will stop me!”

For the Bradleys, having served San Pedro for more than 25 years, Nutcracker season has become a nostalgic affair. “Having our former students’ children involved is the most heartwarming and fulfilling thing imaginable,” says Cindy Bradley.

The passing of the baton this year will be an experience that these mothers and daughters will undoubtedly cherish, perhaps for years to come. “To be able to experience The Nutcracker 23 years after the last time I performed [in it] is a gift,” says Zimmermann. “And to be able to share this experience with my daughter makes it ten times more special.” spt

The San Pedro City Ballet is set to perform The Nutcracker at the Warner Grand Theatre on December 10 at 7 p.m., December 11 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and December 12 at 2 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit sanpedrocityballet.org.

Avery Amaya-Adle

Avery Amaya-Adle is a freelance journalist.