Cranko, John

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CRANKO, JOHN

CRANKO, JOHN (1927–1973), ballet choreographer and director. Cranko's father, Herbert, a lawyer in South Africa, was Jewish; his mother, Grace Hinds, was not. Cranko was born in Rustenburg, South Africa, and studied dancing in Johannesburg and Cape Town, where he joined the University of Cape Town Ballet (1942). His first creative work was a version of Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale (1942). Moving to London in 1946, he entered the Sadler's Wells Ballet school and company, directed by Ninette de Valois. Soon he was creating ballets, the first of which was Tritsch-Tratsch (1946). After his great success with Pineapple Poll (1951), he became resident choreographer of the Sadler's Wells Ballet (which later merged with the Royal Ballet). Subsequently, he did a series of works for the Royal Ballet Company, including Bonne Bouche (1952), The Lady and the Fool (1954), and his first full-length ballet The Prince of the Pagodas (1957).

Meanwhile, Cranko had also choreographed works for the New York City Ballet (The Witch, 1950), the Paris Opera Ballet (La Belle Hélene, 1955), the Ballet Rambert (Variations on a Theme, 1954), and La Scala, Milan. He also wrote a revue, Cranks (1955), which had a successful run in London. In 1960, he was invited to produce The Prince of the Pagodas in Stuttgart, following which he was appointed ballet director there, and created a company that ranked among the foremost in the world. The Stuttgart Ballet, which staged only Cranko's works, appeared at the Edinburgh Festival (1963) and made tours in America, Europe, and the Soviet Union.

Cranko first visited Israel with the Stuttgart Ballet in 1970. The programs included Romeo and Juliet and several shorter pieces. His second visit was in 1971 to create Song of My People – Forest People – Sea (set to Hebrew poems) for the Batsheva company, and lastly in 1972 to revise the ballet.

Cranko's choreography did not escape criticism. He was inclined to allow his inventiveness to crowd his work and to let his theatrical sense become too prominent. In his later works, however, and especially the short ones, he learned to prune his ideas. Although his Romeo and Juliet had enchanting moments, his most successful long ballets were The Taming of the Shrew (applauded for 20 minutes in Moscow) and Onegin. His greatest achievement was as the creator of the Stuttgart Ballet, which served to raise the standard of continental ballet.

He died in an airplane crash when returning from the United States with the company.

add. bibliography:

ied, vol. ii, 265–68; idb, vol. i, 312–15;J. Percival, Theatre in My Blood: A Biography of John Cranko (1983); odnb online.

[Dora Leah Sowden]