John Cranko

John Cranko was born on 15th August 1927 in Rustenburg, the Republic of South Africa. He gained most of his dance education at university in Cape Town, where he also created his first ballet choreography in 1942 inspired by Stravinsky’s suite of the Soldier’s Tale. In 1946, he continued in his study at the Sadler’s Wells School in London where he became a member of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, later known as the Royal Ballet. In 1947, Cranko gained exceptional attention with his choreography to Debussy’s Children’s Corner for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. From 1949, he dedicated himself exclusively to choreography, mainly for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in London where he achieved great successes. In 1955, he created a choreography to La Belle Hélène for the Paris Opera. Cranko’s first full length English ballet, the Prince of the Pagodas for the Royal Ballet, had its premiere in 1957. In 1961, Walter Erich Schäfer – the former Intendant General at the Württemberg Staatstheater – appointed John Cranko the head of the Stuttgart Ballet. His arrival signalled the beginning of the heyday of this company. Cranko began his tenure with small choreographies. He gathered a group of dancers around him, including Marcia Haydée, Egon Madsen, Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil a Susanne Hanke. The premiere of Cranko’s ballet of Romeo and Juliet in December 1962 became a milestone in the international renown of the author and his company. Acclaimed by both audiences and the critics, this production signalled the beginning of the famous era of the Stuttgart Ballet. Thereafter followed Cranko’s choreographic gems such as Jeu de Cartes, Opus 1 and Initials R.B.M.E. and his large scale action ballets Onegin, Swan Lake, the Taming of the Shrew, Carmen, Poème de l´extase and Spuren. As well as this, Cranko invited young dancers from his group to try their hands at choreography; these included Jiří Kylián and John Neumeier. Cranko’s talent as a storyteller with a sense for the fine shading of the story, his clear dramatic structure and the exceptional way in which he mastered the art of the Pas de deux won over audiences in New York during a triumphant season in the Metropolitan opera in 1969. As his success grew, Cranko took the Stuttgart Ballet touring throughout the world, which strengthened the international fame of the young ballet company and confirmed the reputation of the “Stuttgart ballet miracle”. On 26th June 1973, John Cranko died unexpectedly at the age of 46 during the return flight after a successful tour of the USA.