During Cranko’s career, his quest for poetic images took many and various paths. Cranks was a revue that he devised, wrote and staged. He teamed up with the composer John Addison whose plangent musical wit was a perfect match for the show’s zany inventions.
When working on La Belle Hélène in Paris, Cranko had visited several of the clubs and tiny cellar theatres that put on cabaret and revues. Back in London he went to see a revue at the tiny New Watergate Theatre. The manager asked what he thought of the show. He was dubious. ‘If you think you can do better the theatre is dark in six weeks and it’ll be yours if you can do it’.The show opened with self-introductions by the four players. Their real names are jumbled, identities mixed. They question where, as a cast of performers, belong in the world:
Are we poets or peasants? /Nice Christmas presents?/ Dancers or singers? /Do we belong to clubs? / Get drunk in pubs? What is it we’re about?
In the second number, Adrift, the cast go on to question their personal identities. Trite as this and the rest of the doggerel is, it’s especially amusing when delivered in John Addison’s mock-madrigal style. The sound recording of Cranks is still available. In one of my favourite numbers A Little Cove in Hove, the singer is quietly and professionally bandaged like a mummy from toe to head and then carried off, still singing. Great fun.
The four performers had deliberately mixed strengths, each a pronounced talent; there was Marcia Ashton (later Annie Ross); the African-American, Gordon Heath, Anthony Newley (twenty or more non-singing films behind him); and the stalwart Sadler’s Wells dancer Gilbert Vernon who, when I started researching my book told me about the occasion of the first performance: ‘In Tannhauser at Covent Garden (he had just appeared with Julia Farron in the opening Venusburg scene) I didn’t have to take a curtain call.I ran down to the Strand to get ready for the first night of Cranks. It seemed a bit flat, but the next day – the notices! Played an extra month and transferred to the West End’. Cranks the revue, probably more than any ballet, led to John Cranko’s name becoming well known among the general public in 1955.
The great dramatic dancer Lynn Seymour died recently. I love this picture taken when Cranko mounted his Card Game for the Royal Ballet in 1966. The Joker is Christoper Gable and the lady on the far left is Dorothea Zippel, Stuttgart-born designer of the ballet. The Two of Diamonds is of course Lynn Seymour, and on Cranko’s left, the Queen of Hearts, is that other wonderful comedienne, Annette Page, who died in 2017. Both ballerinas spent time in Germany: Lynn as leading dancer when MacMillan ran the West Berlin company and briefly as director in Munich. Annette also lived in Munich for a while when her husband, Ronald Hynd, was director of that company. When Cranko gave up trying to direct both the Munich and Stuttgart Ballet companies, he asked Ronnie to take over.
I’m trying to brush up my very rusty German language skills before our visit to Stuttgart later this year. As you probably know, those little pronouns der, die and das – der Mann, die Frau, das Wetter – signify the gender of everything from bird to bee to table to chair. Novices like me soon begin to ask why, oh why is there no real logic to the given genders? You’d think ‘the girl’ would be the feminine ‘die’ but no, it’s das Mädchen and the coffee shop is das café. Strange, in a language that is otherwise so ordered.
Limelight is Australia’s leading arts magazine and even though my name was mis-spelled in the headline, the 5 stars were very welcome! It was lovely to read Jansson J. Antmann‘s review starting “Ashley Killar’s biography of choreographer John Cranko is much more than a monograph for aficionados; it’s a page-turner told against a backdrop rich in historical detail”. See www.crankobiography.com /blog posts
My copy of the DVD of Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew arrived the other day. Well filmed, with the myriad of jokes (some of which can be easily missed in a stage performance) piling up. The many moments of tenderness come over well, too. Amazing how a fifty year old comedy is still so fresh!
That’s all for now.
PS I recently put together some memorabilia about Napac Dance Company on the web. The company was based in Durban, capital of Natal Kwa-Zulu in South Africa. During our second year, guests included Patricia Neary, Jonas Kage and Deborah Dobson. Another guest that year was Reid Anderson, who came to mount Cranko’s Brouillards and The Lady and the Fool. (Reid later became director of Stuttgart Ballet, until his retirement in 2017.)
The photos and articles about Napac Dance Co on the web have already prompted quite a few responses from former dancers and others connected with the Natal Performing Arts Council in the 1980s. One of them was the theatre’s music librarian, Robin Gordon-Powell. He now works in the music library at the Royal Opera House in London – in the very same job that my father used to do! Small world, indeed.