Talking Props with the Prop Master

Ken Ryan, master of properties at SF Ballet, explains that for an art form without spoken word, like ballet, props are not just window dressing, but instead vital to the storytelling. We asked him about the many props in Tomasson’s Nutcracker.

What constitutes a prop here at SF Ballet?

Ken Ryan: At SF Ballet, a prop is anything a dancer handles, including some furniture. In Nutcracker for example, props range widely in scale and material: from the snow and the Fabergé eggs that the Russians jump out of, to the small Christmas tree the boys carry in Prologue and all of Drosselmeyer’s “party” tricks.

Hansuke Yamamoto in Tomasson's Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)
Hansuke Yamamoto in the Russian variation in Tomasson’s Nutcracker.
(© Erik Tomasson)

Tell us about your favorite Nutcracker props:

KR: Well, of course there’s the snow.  Each snowflake (paper confetti) is about the size of a piece of paper from a hole punch. In total, I have 36 20-gallon garbage cans full of “snow” and each year we purchase about 150 pounds to replace what we’ve lost the previous year.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in the snow scene in Tomasson’s Nutcracker.
(© Erik Tomasson)

There’s also a prop that you may not notice—the photos above the fireplace in the Party scene. It’s actually of the Christensen brothers—the founders of SF Ballet—as children with their parents and as adults. I thought it was important for all of us to have a constant reminder of how this world-class ballet company got started. I smile to myself every time I see it.

SF Ballet School student as Daisy Greene at the end of the party scene in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. Above her is the photograph of the Christensen brothers //© Erik Tomasson

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Header image: SF Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

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