Ballet Dancer, Choreographer. He was born in the small town of Rustenburg in South Africa. He trained at the Cape Town University Ballet School and choreographed his first ballet there in 1945 (to the suite from Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale"), then moved to London in 1945 to study at the Sadler's Wells School. Soon he was offered a place at their ballet (which is now the Royal Ballet) and created for them a spectacular choreography to Debussy's "Children corner". He was very successful with this company in 1949 with "The Beauty and the Beast", in 1951 with "Pineapple Poll" and "Harlequin in April". In 1955 he choreographed for the Paris Opera "La Belle Helene". His first full-length ballet was created in 1959 with a score specially commissioned from Benjamin Britten and sets designed by the British painter John Piper, the famous "The Prince of the Pagodas". During the 50s Cranko was internationally in demand, he worked for the New York City Ballet, the Rambert Company, Paris Opera Ballet and La Scala in Milan. In 1961 he was appointed Director of the Stuttgart Ballet by Walter Erich Schäfer. He had previously restaged a production of his ballet "The Prince of the Pagodas" there. In Stuttgart he had the freedom to mould a new young company and create a new repertory for them. Amongst these dancers were Marcia Haydee, Egon Madsen, Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil and Suzanne Hanke. They formed one of the finest classical ballet companies in Germany. New works included several full-length new ballets: a new version of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" (1963); a version of Pushkin's famous romance "Onegin" (1965, set to a score of Tchaikovsky); "Carmen (1970); "The Taming of the Shrew" (1969). During his time in Stuttgart Cranko also restaged classics like "Swan Lake", "The Nutcracker" and "Giselle". In 1971 Cranko founded a ballet school in Stuttgart with an integrated boarding school still existing today. In 1973, John Cranko died unexpectedly at the age of 46 on board a plane coming back from a successful USA-tour. He died surrounded by his dancers – his death was caused by an allergic reaction to a sleeping pill he took aboard. Cranko's ballets are famous for their narratives based on classical technique. They rely upon strong characterization and a sense of atmosphere to get their story across. Coupled with his art of the Pas de Deux his ballets were part of the so called "German ballet miracle" starting 1969 with a guest performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York . His works are now danced worldwide.
Bio by: Dagmar Epple