Major-market TV news director by day, “Nutcracker” ballet dancer by night.
That’s not the plot of a new sitcom. It is the real-life description of long-time San Diego NBC 7/39 News Director Greg Dawson.
Dawson, always hoping he doesn’t “mess anything up,” will be on stage with the California Ballet at San Diego’s Civic Theater for the annual holiday run starting Dec. 12. The man in charge of all those TV newscasts on the NBC owned-and-operated San Diego station will have a key — but not over-taxing — role on stage as the father of Clara, the young girl at the center of the “Nutcracker” story.
But Clara won’t be portrayed by just any dancer. Dawson’s own 13-year- old daughter Julia will be dancing the Clara role.
“It’s a role girls dream of and being able to share it on and off the stage is a joy,” Dawson said.
He’s not only a veteran news director. He’s also a veteran ballet dancer. This will be the sixth year he’ll be on stage with one of his daughters.
His oldest daughter, Danielle, now 16 and an apprentice with California Ballet, was 5 when the family first got involved. All three of the Dawson daughters — Danielle, Julia and 11-year-old Katy — have been a part of the holiday ballet tradition.
Dawson first took to the stage 11 years ago when he joined Danielle during a father-daughter dance. He continued that for five years. He recalled a running joke among ballet school staff that the news director was becoming a regular, despite not being a professionally trained dancer. One day at “Nutcracker” practice, Dawson was asked to fill in during the opening party scene of the play.
“That’s how I started,” Dawson said. “I learned on the fly and relied on my partner to show me how it worked. I just hoped I didn’t mess anything up or get in anyone’s way.”
Joe Shumate, who works for the California Ballet and is a retired company dancer, said California Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” is made up of a lot of moving parts. The production has a cast of about 150, with 75 dancers participating in each performance. Shumate said male dancers are at a premium, and in a production that requires so many performers, it was clear Dawson should be invited on stage.
“For ‘The Nutcracker’ we have to bring in guests from outside — male dancers from around the community,” Shumate said. “Usually this time of year, any male dancers in San Diego are probably in a performance of ‘The Nutcracker.”‘
Shumate said an overlapping California Ballet production in October kept the troop’s professional dancers tied up, unable to join “Nutcracker” rehearsals that started in September.
Enter the fathers of performing daughters.
While this is Dawson’s sixth year performing in “The Nutcracker” alongside his daughters, last year and this year’s performances have been special highlights for the Dawson family. Dawson also played the part of Clara’s dad last year when Clara was played by Danielle.
Shumate said some of the other girls’ fathers fill in during rehearsals when the professional company dancers are unavailable.
“We realized the dads did a pretty good job,” Shumate said. “They went from being a placeholder to actually being cast in the production.”
Other ballet dads have also gotten involved. Dawson said the non- professional dancing dads have developed a camaraderie and friendship from performing together.
“We have a good time and we don’t take ourselves seriously,” Dawson said. “We’re all there supporting our kids. We help each other figure things out.”
Dawson said he initially thought he’d be nervous to get up on stage, but after months of rehearsals he felt well-prepared. He said his calm before performing is thanks to his career as a self-proclaimed “behind-the-scenes guy” as news director at NBC 7/39.
“Part of what I enjoy the most is not the performing, but it’s really the overall production and behind-the-scenes,” Dawson said. “In TV news, every day a whole lot of people have to do their jobs just right, and everything clicks and at the last minute, it comes together. I get a kick out of that part of it.”
Shumate said family involvement is just an extension of the community California Ballet has become.
“The school and professional company are one big family because we’re around each other so much and the parents are a part of that,” Shumate said. “It’s just a natural progression that the parents end up on stage.”
The California Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” opens at the Civic Theater on Dec.12 and runs through Dec. 20. Tickets range from $25-$105 and can be purchased at www.californiaballet.org/nutcracker.
— City News Service