John Cranko born 15 August 1927 (d. 1973)
John Cranko was a choreographer with the Sadler's Wells Ballet (which later became the Royal Ballet) and the Stuttgart Ballet.
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 leading South African ballet teacher and director, Dulcie Howes, of the University of Cape Town Ballet School.
John Cranko choreographed the comic ballet Pineapple Poll, based on Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas, in collaboration with Sir Charles Mackerras, for a British Festival, following the expiration of the copyright on Arthur Sullivan's music in 1950.
Estranged from his mother his parent's acrimonious divorce, Cranko's father, Herbert, a balletomane, spent a great deal of time with him in London.
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 over 220 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. Cranko followed the format of Cranks with a new revue New Cranks opening at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith in 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.
John Cranko took the moribund tradition of the full-length narrative ballet and, with dazzling productions of Eugene Onegin and Romeo and Juliet, gave it new life. And he brought, to a world of dying swans and sighing swains, a puckish humour that found expression in comic ballets like Pineapple Poll and Jeu de cartes.
But his energy and humour were not without a darker side. A biography by John Percival paints a portrait of a man capable of great friendship but unable to sustain the stable romantic relationship he felt essential to his well-being. The whirl of one-night stands and brief homosexual affairs seems not to have been enough, and his unhappiness was manifested in bouts of drinking and depression.
Cranko choked to death after suffering an allergic reaction to a sleeping pill he took during a transatlantic flight. His mother, Grace, who was divorced from Herbert and lived in what was then Rhodesia, heard about his death from a radio broadcast.
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