On the evenings of June 2 and 3, under the cool summer sky at Cabrillo Way Marina’s Berth 37, San Pedro City Ballet (SPCB) will bring 80 dancers, ranging from ages four (picture squeezable little cygnets) to adult, to perform an updated version of Tchaikovsky’s classic Swan Lake.
The production, which will retain some traditional elements yet also utilize the distinctive waterfront location, is a first of its kind for the company and is a unique way of blending San Pedro’s arts culture with its industrial backdrop.
In addition to Swan Lake, each evening will open with Night, SPCB’s co-artistic director and noted modern choreographer Patrick David Bradley’s new work. Dancers in Night will be guided by the choral version of American composer Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.
How did this all come about? Using the example of past pictures of their ballerinas posed on the deck of the USS Iowa, the odd coupling of beauty and industry stirred the creative juices in SPCB’s co-artistic director, Cindy Bradley. “I just love that juxtaposition,” she says, “and I wanted to be a part of everything that’s going on down there. Swan Lake came to mind because of the water. Hopefully, we will create that feeling of the swan on the water.”
To do this, Cindy and Patrick Bradley have worked more closely than ever with Port of Los Angeles staff, embodying a partnership that reaches back a decade through the Port’s Community Investment Grant.
Generous support for this project also comes from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission (LACAC) and the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs. But it is the Port of Los Angeles that has had a hands-on presence in helping the ballet company to meet its vision.
“The Harbor Area is fortunate to have a local ballet company of such high caliber. San Pedro [City] Ballet’s productions are always top-notch, and the public loves the al fresco shows,” says Arley Baker, senior director of communications and stakeholder engagement for the Port of Los Angeles. “It’s a great way to activate and bring people down to the waterfront, and the beautiful Cabrillo Way Marina location will provide a wonderful summer setting for Swan Lake.”
The staging of this project has been a challenge. Everything has to be loaded in, from the stage materials and seats for an audience of 500 to portable toilets and heaters for the periphery. (Attendees are advised to come prepared for June evening weather and encouraged to bring a wrap, blankets, and seat cushions, if desired.)
There will be no official backstage, no curtained area for swans to gather between stage appearances. Instead, there will be a costume-changing tent, with the trick being to clock the entering and exiting of dancers without pause or confusion. “It’s a huge undertaking,” Cindy says. She choreographed this version of Swan Lake to flow throughout the portable staging.
“Dancers will go under the stage or behind it, and they will enter [the stage] from four sides. Swan Lake’s flow will unfold before your eyes,” says Cindy.
The portable, erector set aspect of the staging will give the public a chance to see what it takes to put on a performance of this scale. In a sense, it will draw the background into the foreground, giving potential funders an idea of what their support would cover.
“We’re thinking of the audience at every point of creating this,” says Cindy. “Some of the dancers will enter through the audience, some behind the audience. It’s been a challenge but a really fun one.”
Dancer Kaela Alvarez, who plays Odette, the lead swan, has been dancing with SPCB for almost 13 years. “It’s been an amazing experience, and it’s a challenging role so far,” she says. “But to be able to do this has truly been wonderful.”
“I love dance so much, and I have loved being in this show,” says dancer Avery Dover-Borgo, who has been with the company for almost a year. “There [are] so many amazing people, and it’s such a wonderful opportunity.” Cindy shares that they hope to make this outdoor performance an annual event and do a different ballet each year.
The envisioning and extensive planning of how to best pull off this ambitious performance is reflective of the magic mojo which has propelled San Pedro City Ballet forward from its beginnings nearly 30 years ago. Taking an idea of which there was no blueprint and seeing it through to its unique fruition is familiar territory for the Bradleys. For their very first performance of The Nutcracker, they booked a theater before they even had space to rehearse. (Needless to say, they had to move quickly.)
The mission of the ballet company has always been to produce traditional ballet works while also showcasing new work. SPCB’s outreach programs to underserved communities are also a vital part of its mission. Schoolchildren who probably have never had a dance class will get to learn with the encouragement of dance instructors. Seven LAUSD schools in Wilmington will have had seven weeks of dance instruction as part of this project. During the Swan Lake weekend, 500 children from these schools will be treated to a dress rehearsal as a culminating event
Both evenings in June will begin with a sunset reception at 7 p.m. at the performance location. The no-host bar will offer beverages from NIO Cocktails and San Pedro Brewing Company, with hors d’oeuvres from Charcuteries by Pam. Performances on both nights will begin at 8 p.m.
The festive weekend at San Pedro’s waterfront will leave a memorable and timely artistic footprint. “We put it together in our own way to tell the story,” says Cindy. “It’s the way we felt it would be best for where we’re doing it. It’s always been part of our vision for the company to have a presence there [at the Port].” spt
The San Pedro City Ballet is set to perform Swan Lake at Cabrillo Way Marina Berth 37 (2201 Miner St.) on Friday, June 2, and Saturday, June 3, at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit sanpedrocityballet.org.