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Repertory Archive

John Cranko


As a young dance student in South Africa, where he was born, John Cranko had started to make choreography.  By the time he reached London in 1946, he had produced a handful of apprentice works, and when he joined the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet (1946) it was evident that his gifts were ideally suited to the needs of the newly-founded company which was to be a cradle and nursery for interpretive and creative talent.  Within four years John Cranko was named Resident Choreographer of the troupe, and he made some of his finest early ballets for the Wells dancers:  Beauty and the Beast (1949), Pineapple Poll (1951), and Harlequin in April (1951).

In 1950, he was asked to create a ballet for New York City Ballet then visiting Covent Garden, and he produced The Witch to the Ravel G Major Piano Concerto, and, during the rest of the 1950’s, Mr. Cranko created works for both the Covent Garden and Sadler’s Wells branches of The Royal Ballet:  notably Antigone (1959), Bonne Bouche (1952) for Covent Garden, and The Lady and the Fool (1954) for the Wells.

In 1957, he choreographed his first full-length ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas for Svetlana Beriosova and David Blair at Covent Garden, a work further distinguished by its score commissioned from Benjamin Britten.  But John Cranko’s bubbling energies needed greater opportunities than those offered by The Royal Ballet organization.  He produced two revues Cranks (1955) and New Cranks (1960), made two ballets for Rambert company, La Belle Helène for the Paris Opera Ballet and the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet for the ballet of La Scala, Milan.  He also directed the Britten opera, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at Aldeburgh in 1960, and, in that same year, went to Stuttgart to restage his The Prince of the Pagodas.  This was to prove the turning point in his career. Stuttgart asked him to assume the directorship of its company in 1961, and from that moment on he was to find the ideal outlet for his energies; molding a company, a school and a repertory, that were to bring the Stuttgart Ballet vast international acclaim.  His example was to serve as an inspiration to other German companies, as to the German public, who took the Stuttgart Ballet to its heart.

With Marcia Haydée as his prima ballerina, with Ray Barra, and then Richard Cragun and Egon Madsen as his principal men, with Birgit Keil as a young native-born ballerina, John Cranko’s company was loved wherever it played. For his company he continued to produce the full-length ballets which revealed Haydée as a superlative dramatic lyric artist — Romeo and Juliet (1963), Onegin (1965), Carmen (1970), and the hilarious The Taming of the Shrew (1969), in which Haydée and Cragun were the ideal Kate and Petruchio.

John Cranko also made stagings of the classics, which he felt so necessary for the development of his company, remounting Swan Lake and The Nutcracker and acquiring Peter Wright’s version of Giselle.  Among his shorter ballets of the Stuttgart years such pieces as Opus I and Brouillards are fine examples, and his Initials R.B.M.E.(the initials of Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil, Marcia Haydée, and Egon Madsen) seems central to John Cranko’s personality, a declaration of the love and affection he had for his dancers, which they so warmly and totally reciprocated.

John Cranko died on an airplane bringing his company home from a triumphant season in New York; but his great talent, his great humanity, his humor, and the love he inspired in everyone who knew him, are part of the fabric of the Stuttgart Ballet still, and they continue to give the company a special luster and appeal.


Source:      Ballet and Dance by Clement Crisp and Peter Brinson.