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Richard Cragun

Richard Cragun
Richard Cragun.jpg
Born(1944-10-05)5 October 1944
Sacramento, California, United States
Died6 August 2012(2012-08-06) (aged 67)
Cause of deathSeizure
  • Dancer
Years active1962–2012
Known forStuttgart Ballet
Partner(s)Roberto de Oliveira (1998–2012 (Cragun's death))

Richard Cragun (5 October 1944 – 6 August 2012) was an American ballet dancer who rose to international fame with the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany. He has been called a "prince of the ballet world" and "one of the most important dancers of the twentieth century."[1]

Early life and training

Richard Alan Cragun was born in Sacramento, the state capital of California. One of three sons in a family where academic achievement was prized, he was obsessed with music and dance from his earliest years.[2] As a boy of 5, he began taking tap dance lessons from Jean Lucille in his hometown. A few years later, he decided to make dancing his profession after his father, a college librarian, took him to see Singin' in the Rain (1952), a Hollywood film musical. Donald O'Connor, one of the stars of the film, became his "first, absolute idol."[3] Inspired to emulate O'Connor's lyrical, balletic style of tap dancing, Cragun took up ballet classes with Barbara Briggs, soon showing talent for classical dance. As a teenager, having begun to realize the expressive possibilities of ballet, he persuaded his parents to let him accept a scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, Canada, an internationally recognized center of creativity in the visual and performing arts. After a period of study there with Betty Farraly and Gweneth Lloyd, he was seen by visiting Royal Ballet star Alexander Grant, who suggested that he apply to the Royal Ballet School in London. During the year that he spent there, his teachers were Errol Addison and Harold Turner. At age 17, Cragun went to Copenhagen, Denmark, to continue training in private classes with Vera Volkova, who was responsible for polishing his remarkable classical technique.[4]

Performing career

In 1962, Volkova recommended Cragun to John Cranko, director of the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany, who engaged him, sight unseen, as a member of his corps de ballet. Barely 18 years old, Cragun took his first steps in a rapid rise toward stardom. In 1965, soon after his appointment as principal dancer, he began his legendary partnership with Marcia Haydée, a Brazilian dancer of marked dramatic ability. A big, handsome man, with a powerful physique, Cragun was a dancer of dazzling virtuosity and distinct virility, a perfect foil for the brilliant technique and delicate femininity of Haydée.[5] The two of them had great success with German audiences in a wide range of works in the Stuttgart repertory, from the classical purity of Swan Lake to the passionate romanticism of Onegin to the rambunctious humor of The Taming of the Shrew. Their professional partnership endured for more than thirty years, from 1965 until Cragun's retirement in 1996, making it one of the longest lasting in ballet history.[6]

Blessed with a perfect physique for dancing, Cragun was a virtuoso of the ballet stage, equaled by only a few male dancers of his generation.[7] He embodied the explosive, colorful form of classical ballet that was sometimes called "the Stuttgart style." Flawless triple tours en l'air were his trademark, an athletic feat accomplished only by such bravura dancers as Edward Villella and Mikhail Baryshnikov on rare occasions.[8] Clive Barnes, dance critic for the New York Times, wrote, "He possesses tremendous elevation. There is a cumulative pulse and rhythmic beat to his dancing that is enormously impressive."[9] He won high praise for his performances in principal roles in Cranko's Romeo und Julia, Onegin, and, especially, The Taming of the Shrew. "Cragun was a strikingly handsome Petruchio, by turns self-mocking, overbearing, funny, and tender. The role suited his robustly masculine and charismatic stage personality and provided a first-class showcase for his virtuosity and partnering skills. No dancer has equaled him in the role.[10]

Cragun remained with the Stuttgart Ballet throughout his performing career. Thanks to the company's tours abroad and to frequent guest appearances with other companies, he achieved a formidable reputation as an international star. Besides his appearances with leading companies in Germany, he danced on stages in Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, England, Sweden, Italy, Canada, the United States, and Japan. Late in his career, in 1990, he appeared in the Stuttgart revival of the Broadway musical On Your Toes, where, in the principal role of Junior, he finally had a chance to exhibit his tap dancing skills.[11]

Roles created

In the course of his long career, Cragun created many roles in the ballets of John Cranko and other European choreographers. Among them are the following.[12]

Ballets by Cranko

  • 1963. L'Estro Armonico (Harmonic Inspiration), music by Antonio Vivaldi.
  • 1965. Bouquet Garni, music by Giacomo Rossini, arranged by Benjamin Britten.
  • 1965. Opus 1, music by Anton Webern (Passacaglia for orchestra).
  • 1966. Concerto for Flute and Harp (aka Mozart Concerto), music by W.A. Mozart.
  • 1968. Présence, music by Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Role: Don Quichotte.
  • 1969. The Taming of the Shrew, music by Domenico Scarlatti, adapted by Karl-Heinz Stolze. Role: Petruchio.
  • 1970. Brouillards (Mists), music by Claude Debussy. Role: principal dancer.
  • 1970. Poème de l'Estase, music by Alexander Scriabin. Role: principal dancer.
  • 1971. Carmen, music by Wolfgang Fortner, with Wilfried Steinbrenner, based on musical motifs of Georges Bizet. Role: Don José.
  • 1972. Initialen R.B.M.E., music by Johannes Brahms. Role: R (for Richard).
  • 1973. Traces, music by Gustav Mahler. Role: principal dancer.

Ballets by others

  • 1963. The Mirror Walkers, choreography by Peter Wright, music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
  • 1963. Quintet, choreography by Peter Wright, music by Jacques Ibert.
  • 1965. Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, music by Gustav Mahler. Role: Der Mann.
  • 1967. Namouna, choreography by Peter Wright, music by Édouard Lalo. Role: Count Ottario.
  • 1968. Die Sphinx, choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, music by Darius Milhaud.
  • 1973. Voluntaries, choreography by Glen Tetley, music by Francis Poulenc. Role: principal dancer.
  • 1975. Daphnis und Chloë, choreography by Glen Tetley, music by Maurice Ravel. Role: Daphnis.
  • 1977. Requiem, choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, music by Gabriel Fauré.
  • 1978. Die Kameliendame (The Lady of the Camellias), choreography by John Neumeier, music by Frédéric Chopin. Role: Armand.
  • 1978, Mein Bruder, Meine Schwestern (My Brother, My Sisters), choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, music by Arnold Schoenberg.
  • 1979. Orpheus, choreography by William Forsythe, music by Hans Werner Henze. Role: Orpheus.
  • 1981. Forgotten Land, choreography by Jiří Kylián, music by Benjamin Britten. Role: principal dancer.
  • 1983. A Streetcar Named Desire, choreography by John Neumeier, music by Sergei Prokofiev. Role: Stanley.
  • 1985. Operette, choreography by Maurice Béjart, music by Franz Léhar.
  • 1985. Abscheid (Farewell), choreography by Heinz Spoerli, music by Alban Berg.
  • 1986. Der Tod im Venedig (Death in Venice), choreography by Norbert Vesak, music by Benjamin Britten. Role: the writer, Gustav von Aschenbach.
  • 1987. Dornröschen (The Sleeping Beauty), choreography by Marcia Haydée, music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Role: Carabosse.
  • 1988. Wie Antigone (Like Antigone), choreography by Mats Ek, music by Mikis Theodorakis. Role: Kreon.
  • 1991. Stati d'Anima (Moods), choreography by Renato Zanella, music by Igor Stravinsky.
  • 1992. Mann im Schatten (Man in the Shadows), choreography by Renato Zanella, music by Richard Farber. Role: Der Mann, the title role.
  • 1995. Edward II, choreography by David Bintley, music by John McCabe. Role: Edward.
  • 1996. Das Letzte Gedicht' (The Last Poem), choreography by Roberto de Oliveira, set to electronic music.

Personal life

Off stage, Cragun and Haydée fell in love and became a couple not long after their meeting. They lived together for sixteen years, until Cragun realized that he was essentially homosexual. After their romantic relationship ended in 1977, they remained fast friends and colleagues.[13] Haydée bore him no resentment. "Richard was one of the best dancers in the world," she said. "Even after our separation, we were the best of friends." They continued to work together and dance together until he retired from the stage. In later years, Cragun formed a loving partnership with Brazilian choreographer Roberto de Oliveira, which endured for fourteen years, ending only at his death.[14]

Later life

In his later years with the Stuttgart Ballet, Cragun became one of the company's ballet masters and was a vital force in rehearsing and coaching his successors in all his roles.[15] Upon finishing his career as a dancer, he was appointed ballet director of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, where he spent three not very happy years. Encouraged by Haydée, he left Germany in 1999 and moved with his partner, Roberto de Oliveira, to Brazil, where they launched DeAnima Ballet Contemporáneo for youngsters from the black slums of Rio de Janeiro. Cragun also became ballet director at the city's Teatro Municipal, where, despite a lack of financial support, he managed a company of some seventy dancers and staged works from the Stuttgart repertory. A talented cartoonist, Cragun also mounted several exhibitions of his work in art galleries and other venues in the city.[16]

Cragun was in poor health in his last years, suffering from the effects of a stroke in 2005 and complications from living with AIDS. On 6 August 2012, he suffered a seizure triggered by a lung infection and died in Rio de Janeiro soon after being admitted to hospital. He was survived by de Oliveira and his younger brother, Lawrence. A friend gave this report of his funeral: "The most moving moment at yesterday's cremation ceremony in Rio came when the flower-covered coffin began to move away, and Richard's friends and admirers, led by Marcia Haydée, stood, applauded, and cried out 'Bravo,' as they had so many times at the end of his magnificent performances. It was a spontaneous and appropriate ovation and send-off. Richard deserved no less."[17]


  1. ^ Gramilano, "The Ballet World Loses a Prince: Richard Cragun Dies at 67," Facebook, website Retrieved 18 December 2015.
  2. ^ Judith Cruickshank, "Richard Cragun Obituary," The Guardian (London), 10 August 2012.
  3. ^ Paul Vitello, "Richard Cragun, Stuttgart Ballet Dancer, Dies at 67," obituary, International New York Times, 10 August 2012.
  4. ^ Debra Craine and Judith Mackrell, "Cragun, Richard," in The Oxford Dictionary of Dance (Oxford University Press, 2000).
  5. ^ John Gruen, "Stuttgart Profiles: Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun," Dance Magazine (New York), August 1975, pp. 71–76.
  6. ^ Horst Koegler, "Cragun, Richard," in International Encyclopedia of Dance, edited by Selma Jeanne Cohen and others (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), vol. 2, pp. 261–262.
  7. ^ Walter Terry, Great Male Dancers of the Ballet (Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Books, 1978).
  8. ^ Alexander Bland and John Percival, Men Dancing: Performers and Performances (New York: Macmillan, 1984).
  9. ^ Vitello, "Richard Cragun, Stuttgart Ballet Dancer, Dies at 67," obituary, 10 August 2012.
  10. ^ Cruickshank, "Richard Cragun Obituary," 10 August 2012.
  11. ^ Craine and Mackrell "Cragun," Richard," in The Oxford Dictionary of Dance (2000).
  12. ^ Koegler, "Cragun, Richard" in International Encyclopedia of Dance (1998), vol. 2, p. 262.
  13. ^ Vitello, "Richard Cragun, Stuttgart Ballet Dancer, Dies at 67," obituary, 10 August 2012.
  14. ^ Gramilano, "The Ballet World Loses a Prince: Richard Cragun Dies at 67," obituary, 7 August 2012.
  15. ^ Hartmunt Regitz, "Ballettmeister Richard Cragun," Stuttgarter Ballett Annual 15/16 (1993), pp. 29–36.
  16. ^ Klaus Hart, "Richard Cragun (1944–2012), Tänzer, Ballettdirektor, Rio de Janeiro," Klaus Hart Brasilientexte, website, Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  17. ^ Peter Rosenwald, quoted at Gramilano, "The Ballet World Loses a Prince: Richard Cragun Dies at 67," obituary, 7 August 2012.

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