– striking similarities, 200 years apart
Jean-Georges Noverre and John Cranko Not many people realise that Stuttgart (halfway between Paris and Vienna) was famous for ballet 200 years before Cranko worked there.
Radical reforms took place in Stuttgart during both the 1760s and the 1960s. Ballet’s first famed reformer, Jean-Georges Noverre, worked as director of ballet at the court of Duke Karl-Eugen of Württemberg, attracting the greatest dancers of the era.
The troupe was was headed by Jean Dauberval who, as a choreographer, was later to continue Noverre’s reforms brilliantly in ballets such as the original La Fille mal gardée. A nucleus of Noverre’s dancers trained in Paris, but there were Italians, English, Austrians with, as in Stuttgart two hundred years later, the composition of dancers was truly international.
Noverre’s 18th century equivalent of Cranko’s prima ballerina Marcia Haydée was Nancy Levier who arrived from London in July 1761. She was praised as having “acquired the art of speaking through dance” .
It was David Garrick, Drury Lane’s acclaimed actor-manager of the day who called Noverre “the Shakespeare of dance”. Gaetano Vestris, a leading male dancer, took leave from Paris to appear in Stuttgart every year during Noverre’s tenure. Two hundred years later dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev, Erik Bruhn, Carla Fracci and Margot Fonteyn made guest appearances with Cranko’s budding company.
All the dancers who worked with Noverre seem to have regarded their master with high esteem, as we did John 200 years later. Dauberval went on to teach luminaries such as August Bournonville, Charles Didelot and Salvatore Vigano. Likewise, a number of choreographers emerged from Cranko’s company, most famously John Neumeier and Jiři Kylián. It is astonishing to realise that Noverre and Cranko, two centuries apart, each mentored dancers so successfully in the same provincial town. Must be something in the air…