Several years ago, Cynthia and Patrick Bradley made a decision to start a ballet school and a performing company in the San Pedro, California area. After searching for a location for their school, they rented a space in the Terraces Shopping Center on Western Avenue that would accommodate two studios. They opened the school in the fall of 1994 with a small group of students in the school and a small performing company of eight dancers.
A ballet board of directors to support the performing company was begun with help from the parents of the original eight dancers. Suzanne Lawson researched and administer the proper legal procedures to establish the not-for-profit status of the company. The company was incorporated as San Pedro City Ballet, a California 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation. Cynthia and Patrick were hired the artistic directors for the company.
That first fall, choreography and rehearsals for The Nutcracker were begun, costumes were sewn, and sets were designed and built. In December, San Pedro City Ballet’s first production of The Nutcracker was presented at San Pedro High School to a small but enthusiastic group of supporters.
For two years, San Pedro High School auditorium was home to The Nutcracker and the company’s annual spring concert. In 1995, the company’s productions were moved to the historic Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro. Despite the inadequate facilities for live presentations in this theater, San Pedro City Ballet mounted its productions there for three years. In 1998, the company’s productions were moved to the El Camino College Center for the Arts Marsee Auditorium in the city of Torrance, where stage, lighting, and sound equipment enabled greatly expanded and more professional company performances. Presently, audiences for The Nutcracker are up to 5,500 each season, although the spring concert always plays to smaller audiences. This is historically true of all regional ballet companies’ productions.
In 1998, the Bradleys purchased the old Norwegian Bakery building at 1231 Pacific Avenue in downtown San Pedro and opened the San Pedro Ballet School, providing a permanent home for San Pedro City Ballet. Students from the San Pedro Ballet School become members of the performing company, San Pedro City Ballet, when their dancing abilities reach company level. In 2001, San Pedro City Ballet II, an apprentice-level company, was begun. The enrollment of the school is approximately 250 students.
Many SPCB graduates have gone to work in the dance world as performers, choreographers, and dance educators at the highest levels. Others have taken the work ethic they learned in the program and applied it to their educational and professional endeavors, pursuing successful careers in law, health care, education, and other fields.
Our most well-known former student is Misty Copeland. In 2015, she made history by becoming the first African-American female Principal dancer at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre in New York. Copeland was discovered by Cindy Bradley as a 13-year-old through one of San Pedro City Ballet’s outreach programs. She writes, “This program changed the trajectory of my life. Because of San Pedro City Ballet’s mission of bringing ballet to the Los Angeles community, I was trained in four short years to go on to dance with American Ballet Theatre in New York City, America’s National Ballet Company.”
Throughout the history of San Pedro City Ballet, the one most common thread has been the practice of enabling the underserved members of our community to see the company’s performances at no cost. From early on, schools and organizations in the local community and from the Greater Los Angeles area have been invited to see the company perform. One of the most fulfilling aspects of providing this service to the community is the awe and appreciation of those audiences.