John Cranko

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John Cranko
John Cranko.jpg
Born (1927-08-15)15 August 1927
Rustenburg, South Africa
Died 26 June 1973(1973-06-26) (aged 45)
On board transatlantic flight
Occupation Ballet dancer and choreographer
Parents Herbert and Grace Cranko

John Cyril Cranko (15 August 1927 – 26 June 1973) was a choreographer with the Sadler's Wells Ballet (which later became the Royal Ballet) and the Stuttgart Ballet.

Early life[edit]

Cranko was born in Rustenburg in the former province of Transvaal, South Africa. As a child, he would put on puppet shows as a creative outlet. Cranko received his early ballet training in Cape Town under the leading South African ballet teacher and director, Dulcie Howes, of the University of Cape Town Ballet School. He then moved to London. His father, Herbert, a balletomane, spent a great deal of time with him there.


Cranko collaborated with the designer John Piper on Sea Change, performed at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin in July 1949. They collaborated again for Sadler's Wells Ballet on The Shadow, which opened on 3 March 1953.[1]

Following the expiration of the copyright on Sir Arthur Sullivan's music in 1950, John Cranko choreographed the comic ballet Pineapple Poll, in collaboration with Charles Mackerras, for a British Festival. Pineapple Poll was based on W. S. Gilbert's Bab Ballad The Bumboat Woman's Story, with music by Sullivan, including music from various Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Another collaboration with Mackerras followed with The Lady and the Fool.

In January 1954, Sadler's Wells Ballet announced that Cranko was collaborating with Benjamin Britten to create a ballet. Cranko devised a draft scenario for a work he originally called The Green Serpent, fusing elements drawn from King Lear, Beauty and the Beast (a story he had choreographed for Sadler's Wells in 1948) and the oriental tale published by Madame d'Aulnoy as Serpentin Vert. Creating a list of dances, simply describing the action and giving a total timing for each, he passed this to Britten and left him to compose what eventually became The Prince of the Pagodas.[2]

John Cranko wrote and developed a musical revue Cranks, which opened in London in December 1955, moved to a West End theatre the following March, and ran for 223 performances. With music by John Addison, its cast of four featured singers Anthony Newley, Annie Ross, Hugh Bryant and dancer Gilbert Vernon then transferred to New York's Broadway at the Bijou Theatre. An original cast CD has been released.[3] Cranko followed the format of Cranks with a new revue New Cranks opening at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith on 26 April 1960 with music by David Lee and a stellar cast including Gillian Lynne, Carole Shelley and Bernard Cribbins, but it failed to have the same impact.

In 1960, Cranko directed the first performance of Benjamin Britten's opera A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Prosecuted for homosexual activity, Cranko left the UK for Stuttgart, and in 1961 was appointed director of the Stuttgart Ballett,[1] where he assembled a group of talented performers such as Marcia Haydée, Egon Madsen, Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil and Suzanne Hanke. Among his following choreographies were Romeo und Juliet by William Shakespeare in 1962, set to music by Prokofiev, Onegin in 1965, an adaptation of the verse novel Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, set to music by Tchaikovsky, (mainly The Seasons), orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare in 1969, Brouillards in 1970, Carmen in 1971 (music by Wolfgang Fortner and Wilfried Steinbrenner) and Spuren (Traces) in 1973. His work was a major contribution to the international success of German ballet beginning with a guest performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1969. 1971, Cranko founded the Stuttgart Ballet School.


Cranko choked to death after suffering an allergic reaction to a sleeping pill he took during a transatlantic flight to Dublin returning from a successful tour in the United States.[4] His mother, Grace, who was divorced from Herbert and lived in what was then Rhodesia, heard about his death from a radio broadcast. Cranko was buried at a small cemetery near Castle Solitude in Stuttgart.


In 2007 the Stuttgart Ballet celebrated Cranko's 80th birthday with the Cranko Festival. The ballet Voluntaries by Glen Tetley was created in his memory. The John Cranko Society in Stuttgart, founded in 1975, promotes knowledge of ballet and Cranko's work, supports performances and talented dancers and every year presents the John Cranko Award.


  1. ^ a b Reed, Cooke & Mitchell (2008): p. 94
  2. ^ Reed, Cooke & Mitchell (2008): pp. 258-60
  3. ^ "Cranks". The Guide to Musical Theatre. 2014. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  4. ^ "Choreographer John Cranko of Stuttgart Ballet dies". The Montreal Gazette. UPI. 27 June 1973. 


  • Reed, Philip; Cooke, Mervyn; Mitchell, Donald (eds) (2008). Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Vol. 4 1952-1957. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN 9781843833826. 

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