South Pasadenans Dance in PDT’s “The Nutcracker Ballet” with Guest Artists From American Ballet Theatre

PHOTO: Pasadena Dance Theatre | South Pasadenan News | Liana Zangwill with her partner, Jacob Schmieder-Hacker in rehearsals for PDT's "The Nutcracker Ballet".

It’s that magical time of year when Pasadena Dance Theatre takes over the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse for their annual production of “The Nutcracker Ballet” set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. This year’s production features choreography by South Pasadena’s own Jessamyn Vedro, who has re-imagined the classic ballet for a modern audience. Vedro’s new vision draws inspiration from E.T.A Hoffman’s classic story, but focuses the ballet on the central character of Clara as she navigates the challenges of adolescence, embarking on a journey of self-discovery.

PHOTO: Jade Young | South Pasadenan News | American Ballet Theatre dancer Eric Tamm

Vedro stepped in to choreograph “The Nutcracker Ballet” after the artistic director retired earlier this year. While faithful to the spirit of PDT’s well-loved production, with familiar sets and costumes, Vedro has brought a new direction and focus. “I have tried to emphasize more contemporary themes and ideas, and create a character in the lead role of Clara that young women of today can relate to and admire. I have also tried to move away from some of the outdated tropes that have historically been associated with the Nutcracker, and focus on a celebration of global diversity and cultural sensitivity,” says Vedro. Born and raised in South Pasadena, Vedro attended Marengo School and graduated from SPHS in 2000. She trained at PDT and danced professionally with American Ballet Theatre Studio Company and the LA Opera. For many years up to and including this past year, she continued to dance as a guest principal dancer and taught with PDT. She says she is grateful to have had the opportunity to create a work of this scale on such talented young artists and says “I am most excited to see them take ownership of the choreography on stage and to experience the unparalleled joy that live performance can bring, and which I had the great fortune to experience at PDT for over 30 years.”

PHOTO: Alex DiMattia | South Pasadenan News | ABT Soloist Katherine Williams

Featuring a cast of over 50 dancers, including guest principal dancers from American Ballet Theatre, Katherine Williams and Eric Tamm, the ballet will be as grand and moving as it has ever been but with a fresh look at the holiday tradition that has enraptured generations. In this new interpretation, Clara travels the world in her dreams, experiencing the festive dances of countries from China to France, from Ukraine to Egypt, from Scotland to Spain. This year’s production will have unexpected twists and exciting reinventions of classic roles, developing themes of empowerment and collaboration, in a celebration of global diversity.

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Among the cast are five dancers from South Pasadena including Ashleigh Doede, Mazzy Galbraith, Paloma Lakoff, Ava Torres, and in the role of Clara, Liana Zangwill. A senior at South Pasadena High School, Zangwill started going to see The Nutcracker Ballet when she was four years old and tells us she remembers loving it from that very young age. “It was always an exciting part of my winter because I loved watching the professional dancing and seeing kids on stage with them, which inspired me to come to PDT and start being in Nutcracker myself,” says Zangwill. She says she was thrilled to be in PDT’s production for the first time when she was cast as a party girl in the 7th grade, so now being cast as Clara is a dream come true. “Rehearsals for Clara are definitely long and hard but it’s also been fun learning all the new choreography and getting to do it with my friends. Jessamyn’s choreography is so beautiful and I love working with her!”

Sounds like a “must see” to me! Come one and all to the historic San Gabriel Mission to experience the dazzle of the new and the comfort of the familiar in one unforgettable performance of Pasadena Dance Theatre’s “The Nutcracker Ballet”!

Pasadena Dance Theatre’s “The Nutcracker Ballet” is performed at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse located at 320 S. Mission Drive in San Gabriel. Performances are Thursday Dec. 22 at 2pm, Friday Dec. 23 at 2pm and 6pm and Saturday Dec. 24 at 1pm. Tickets available at or call 626-683-3459.