Five Ways John Cranko’s Legacy Lives On

Boston Ballet Staff

Nelson Madrigal and Misa Kuranaga in John Cranko's Romeo & Juliet. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor

Misa Kuranaga and Nelson Madrigal in Romeo & Juliet

Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor

This celebrated choreographer quickly made a name for himself and left a lasting impression on the dance world during his relatively short career.

Petra Conti and Lasha Khozashvili in John Cranko's Onegin

Photo credit: Gene Schiavone

John Cranko

Photo credit: Hannes Kilian

Petra Conti and Lasha Khozashvili in John Cranko's Onegin

Photo credit: Gene Schiavone

John Cranko

Photo credit: Hannes Kilian

John Cranko (1927–1973) was a renowned choreographer and served as ballet director for Stuttgart Ballet for 12 years. His brilliant career was tragically cut short when he died at age 45 on a plane returning from Stuttgart Ballet's U.S. tour. Before you experience John Cranko's Romeo & Juliet onstage, see how his legacy lives on today. 

1. His unforgettable talent in dance and choreography: Cranko began his dance career in South Africa, where he was born. At age 18, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in choreography and moved to London. In 1957, he was selected to choreograph his first full-length ballet, The Prince of Pagodas, for The Royal Ballet.

2. Timeless storytelling enjoyed by audiences today: While shorter, plotless ballets were at the height of popularity in the 1960s, Cranko was a champion of the narrative ballet. His choreography is renowned for its easy-to-follow stories, vivid characters, and use of dance as a representation of life. Cranko’s most popular works: Romeo & JulietThe Taming of the Shrew, and Onegin, are in the repertoires of leading companies around the world and are still performed to this day. Romeo & Juliet, on stage Mar 15–Apr 8 at the Boston Opera House, has been praised as "arguably the best dance treatment of Prokofiev’s celebrated ballet score" (Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times).

3. Building enduring companies across the globe: Cranko was appointed ballet director of Stuttgart Ballet in Germany in 1961. He focused on further developing the company’s talented dancers and diversifying its repertoire. Under his leadership, Stuttgart Ballet became one of the leading dance companies in Europe, as well as "a dynasty builder," with former members going on to direct companies across the globe (Kate Mattingly, The New York Times).

Stuttgart Ballet in John Cranko's Romeo & Juliet.  Photo credit: Bernd Weissbrod

Stuttgart Ballet in John Cranko's Romeo & Juliet

Photo credit: Bernd Weissbrod

4. Mentoring future choreographers: Cranko was a mentor to several renowned dancers and choreographers during his tenure as director, including John Neumeier, Jiří Kylián, and William Forsythe.

  • ​Forsythe joined Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet in 1973 just before Cranko’s untimely death. During the time that they overlapped as mentor and student, Cranko encouraged Forsythe to choreograph in earnest. Forsythe was appointed resident choreographer of Stuttgart Ballet just three years later, becoming one of the most prolific choreographic voices of the 20th and 21st centuries. Boston Ballet has performed many of Forsythe’s notable works, including The Vertiginous Thrill of ExactitudeThe Second Detail, and In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, and will present the company premiere of Pas/Parts 2016 this spring, Mar 9–Apr 7.
  • Cranko offered Kylián his first professional ballet contract with Stuttgart Ballet in the 1960s, and encouraged him to create some of his first contemporary pieces for the company. After Cranko’s death, Kylián created Return to a Strange Land as a dedication to his memory. Kylián is now credited with over 100 choreographic pieces of his own, including Wings of Wax and Bella Figura, and names Cranko as one of his first influences.
  • Neumeier has served as Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet since 1973. Cranko offered him a contract with Stuttgart Ballet in 1963, where he created his first ballets. Neumeier’s signature story ballets like Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream highlight the influence Cranko had on his choreographic ideas.

5. His commitment to the next generation of dancers: After being appointed ballet director of Stuttgart Ballet, Cranko focused on starting a school to train future generations of dancers in close relation with the professional company. In 1971, the John Cranko School was founded—the first boarding school for ballet in Germany to offer a complete classical dance education with a state diploma.

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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