Erin Mesaros performs in the drive-in staging of “The Nutcracker” by San Diego Ballet Company at Liberty Station. Photo by Chris Stone

Sue McGrath of Del Mar says she’s lucky to live near her daughter Jennifer Levy of Cardiff, especially during the pandemic era.

But they were luckier still to score tickets Friday for San Diego Ballet Company’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker,” shortened to an hour and staged drive-in-movie style at Liberty Station.

With tickets per-car ranging from $99 to VIP front-row parking $139 — and now sold out — the McGrath and Levy families were delighted to keep a family streak alive.

“We were just happy that we would have a chance to come see it with the kids,” Levy said before the 2020 debut performance in front of the maximum 30 vehicles. “It’s nice to be able to do some of the traditional things.”

It was the first time her preschool kids had seen the live staging.

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“We have a couple versions of the story in illustrated book form,” she said. “We’ve been listening to the music nonstop for the past few weeks.”

Her 2-year-old daughter, Sylvia, now likes to call herself Clara — the ballet’s central character.

McGrath said she began bringing Jennifer to San Diego’s “Nutcracker” — staged at places like Copley Symphony Hall — as a toddler and this was at least her 30th visit.

In fact, said ballet executive director Matt Carney, the five-performance, two-weekend showing is in its 31st year.

“COVID-19 has changed the performing arts industry profoundly” Carney said. “This downtime, though, has given us an opportunity to pause and rethink all that we do including our annual production of ‘The Nutcracker.’”

Helping keep dancers safe was the fact three couples live together “and are safely in pods. We also have two sets of three that live together that have created a safe cohort,” he said.

As far as young performers, those dancing together live in the same household or are part of a learning cohort where they already safely meet at home, he said. No dancers wore masks, but their temperatures were taken before the performance.

Even outdoors in a western parking lot, Carney said the show maintained its holiday-classic charm.

“Not only does this provide work for our beautiful dancers, it also gives families a small sense of normalcy to see a show that clearly marks the season,” he said.

Laurie Albrecht, director of the Liberty Station Community Association, said: “Due to current event guidelines, we had to be flexible in our planning, evolving our annual, one-day Nutcracker Tea event into an outdoor experience with multiple showings.”

She noted it was important for the San Diego Ballet, a Liberty Station tenant, “that we still offer the magical experience to the community in a safe, comfortable setting.”

Francesca Weaver of Bay Park, sitting on a curb with her family in front of their vehicle, said it was great being outdoors.

“I’m so glad that they would think outside the box,” she said.

Amy Balelo of Point Loma, another Friday afternoon spectator, said her niece, 10-year-old Olivia Balelo, was a Russian bear in the production of the ballet scored by Russian Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

Balelo watched with her sister and other nieces.

“Before it was maybe 2 1/2 hours,” she said. “Now it’s 1 hour. But that won’t make any difference for the kids.”

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