Cranko correspondence

Miserable to exultant

Cranko was a close friend of the English artist and stage designer John Piper, and would often visit the Piper family at their farmhouse near Henley. I was extremely fortunate to unearth several long-forgotten letters to John Piper and his wife Myfanwy in the archives of Tate Britain. Some of them, like the following one, are very funny – others reveal heartfelt feelings. Nearly all the letters to the Pipers appear in my book.

In 1954 Cranko mounted Pineapple Poll in Melbourne. On the long flight back to England there was a stopover at Singapore, and from there he wrote (on Raffles Hotel notepaper) to John and Myfanwy Piper.

Cranko’s letter to the Pipers from Singapore

As a teenager in South Africa, Cranko wrote frequent letters to his adolescent friend and first stage designer, Hanns Ebensten. Ten of these letters are included in Cranko the Man and his Choreography and part of one appears below.

Cranko and Hanns Ebensten met in Johannesburg when they were aged seventeen and twenty-one respectively. While their homosexuality and their Jewish blood kindled their friendship, it was their mutual delight in devising marionette shows, later ballets, that drew them together. Shortly after they met, Cranko moved to Cape Town to study there, and Ebensten designed Cranko’s The Soldier’s Tale and two more of his pieces for the University of Cape Town Ballet. Cranko then left South Africa for London and Ebensten followed soon after. There, after designing two more ballets for Cranko, he saw that even well-established stage designers found difficulty making ends meet and decided that this was not a career that he would pursue any further.

Here is the first page of an early letter (he was sixteen) from Cranko to Hanns, drawn from the dozen or so that appear in the book.

part of a letter to Hanns Ebensten

Cranko’s correspondence ranges in tone from thoroughly miserable to exultant – and one to the composer Benjamin Britten is particularly moving in its intensity of feeling. You will find a wealth of Cranko’s letters in Cranko: the Man and his Choreography.