When John Cranko came to Stuttgart in 1961, he brought the Ballet Company of the State Theatre Stuttgart, today’s Stuttgart Ballet, to world fame within a short period of time. Cranko's idea to establish a ballet school in Stuttgart where talented young dancers would be trained in close contact with the Ballet Company became reality ten years after the founding of the Stuttgart Ballet. The John Cranko Schule, named after its founder in 1974, was officially opened on 1st December 1971 in the presence of the then incumbent Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Hahn (Minister of Education and the Arts of Baden-Wuerttemberg), Dr. Arnulf Klett (Mayor of Stuttgart), Prof. Walter Erich Schaefer (General Manager of the State Theatre Stuttgart) and John Cranko personally. For the first time in West Germany a comprehensive education in classical dance from basic training to a professional degree was possible. In 1973, the two last years of study, the so-called Theater Classes, were given the status of a State Ballet Academy / Vocational School. Thus, the John Cranko Schule was the only school in West Germany which offered a complete ballet education in classical dance recognized with a state diploma. Under the direction of Anne Woolliams the school advanced to one of the most internationally recognized addresses for talented young dancers. Since 1999 the John Cranko Schule, affiliated to the Stuttgart Ballet, has been under the direction of Tadeusz Matacz and is one of the most renowned ballet schools in the world.
John Cranko / Photo: Hannes Kilian
John Cranko was born on 15th August 1927 in Rustenburg, South Africa. He received his dance education mainly at the University of Cape Town, where he also choreographed his first ballet to Stravinsky’s Suite from The Soldier’s Tale. In 1946, he continued his studies at the Sadler’s Wells School in London and shortly afterwards became a member of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (subsequently The Royal Ballet). In 1947, Cranko made a sensational choreography to Debussy’s Children’s Corner for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet; from 1949 on he devoted himself exclusively to choreography, producing extremely successful ballets - mostly for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. In 1955, he choreographed La Belle Hélène for the Paris Opera Ballet and in 1957 he created his first full-length ballett, The Prince of the Pagodas, for The Royal Ballet. In 1961, John Cranko was appointed ballet director in Stuttgart by Walter Erich Schaefer, the General Director of the State Theatre Stuttgart.
At the beginning of his time in Stuttgart, Cranko created short ballets and gathered together a group of dancers, among whom were Egon Madsen, Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil and, most importantly, a young Brazilian dancer named Marcia Haydée who was to become his prime muse and inspiration.
The breakthrough for Cranko came in December 1962 with the world premiere of Romeo and Juliet, which was highly praised by critics and audience alike. In Stuttgart Cranko created many small choreographic jewels such as Jeu de cartes and Opus I, as well as his symphonic ballet Initials R.B.M.E., but it was with his dramatic story ballets such as Onegin, The Taming of the Shrew, Carmen, Poéme de l’Extase and Traces that Cranko secured his place in the pantheon of great choreographers. In addition, he encouraged young dancers in his company - including Jiri Kylian and John Neumeier - to try their hand at choreography.
Cranko’s gift for nuanced story-telling, clear dramatic structure and his exquisite mastery of the art of the pas de deux conquered New York audiences during a triumphant season at the Metropolitan Opera in 1969. World wide acclaim soon followed, as Cranko and his young company toured the globe.
John Cranko died unexpectedly at age 45 on June 26, 1973, on a return flight from a successful U.S.A. tour.
John Cranko / Photo: Andreas Heumann