Leland Principal Introduces Community Third-graders to ‘Nutcracker’ Tradition

by Daryl Strickland, on LASUDdaily.net

It was 10 a.m. sharp on a recent Friday as the auditorium lights at the historic Warner Grand Theatre dimmed, and the voices of 1,500 third-graders taking a field trip to see the holiday classic, “The Nutcracker,” went quiet.

Lora Caudill, principal of Leland Street  Elementary School, and Cynthia Bradley, artistic director of the San Pedro City Ballet, asked the youngsters how many had seen the ballet before. Nary a hand was raised. And, even though almost all of them lived in nearby neighborhoods or surrounding cities, only a handful of the kids had ever attended the restored, grand theater in downtown San Pedro.

Then the curtain rose, and the opening strains of the classic Tchaikovsky libretto marked the start of the holiday classic. The students were enthralled as the dancers expressed their emotions through movement, thrilled when the title character came to life. They shrieked when a magician shot white confetti into the air and kids sitting near the stage leaped up, hoping to snag a scrap of paper as a souvenir.

“It’s really good,” said Leland student Daisy Rodriguez. “I like how they were pointing their toes and doing lots of motions. I’m going to tell my mom that I want to come back here again. It was very cool.”

Kimberly Gurrloa, who also attends the San Pedro school, said she was inspired by the performers dancing on their tippytoes.

“It is something new that I would like to try,” she said.

“It was great,” student Jaedyn Bradberry chimed in. “I liked when they were in the snow and a bunch of people came out and started dancing.”

Th recent production of “The Nutcracker” included talented youngsters from L.A. Unified, including 11-year-old Joaquyn McCowan. He has been accepted into DancEd Steps Up, the ballet company’s after-school program. In its partnership with L.A. Unified, the program provides talented students with free intensive instruction that channels them toward a professional dance career.

Joaquyn, who attends Alexander Fleming Middle School in Lomita, may be following in the footsteps of his father, Lawrence, as well as American Ballet Theatre star Misty Copeland, who are veterans of the dance program.

“Ballet has helped me to be more focused,” Joaquyn said. “My dream is to be a professional dancer, and I’m on my way to fulfilling that dream.”

The holiday field trip is one that Caudill organizes annually for students. This year’s event drew 1,500 students from Leland Elementary and 15 neighboring schools, making it her largest event ever. It’s especially rewarding, she said, since it provides most of the students their first opportunity to visit a theater and see a ballet.

“It’s amazing to see all the kids here,” Caudill said. “We had a good time standing and greeting the kids as they came into the theater and they were just looking up at this theater built in 1939. It’s fabulous for the kids to see it for the first time. Amazing.”

Marni Farmer