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By Dance Magazine
One of the first American ballet dancers to make his career in Europe, Richard Cragun became famous for his onstage partnership with Marcia Haydée at the Stuttgart Ballet. And yet he was an outstanding soloist as well.
“He was a dancer of utmost grace,” says Michael Uthoff, the director of Dance St. Louis who has danced internationally. “He gave of himself completely to the role and to his partner when the situation called for it. His technique flowed from a center that made it look effortless. He was always attentive, and in public, when I met him a couple of times, always gracious.”
At left: Cragun in John Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias (1978), with Marcia Haydée (center) and Birgit Keil. Photo by Leslie E. Spatt, Dance Magazine Archives.
About his partnership with Marcia Haydée, famed ballet stager Maina Gielgud says, “They bounced off each other. You got the impression that they were both improvising, and that she completely trusted him. They were fearless with each other. Cranko could just imagine, and they could run with it.”
Cragun in Fetish by Barton Mumaw in 1982 at Jacob's Pillow. Photo by Kenn Duncan, Dance Magazine Archives.
Richard Cragun was born in Sacramento, California where he began his dance training, including tap dance. He studied at the Banff Center for Fine Arts in Canada and graduated from the Royal Ballet School in London in 1962. The same year, upon the recommendation of his teacher Vera Volkova, he was accepted into John Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet.
Cragun and Haydée in Cranko's Taming of the Shrew in 1969. Photo unknown, Dance Magazine Archives.
Cragun rose quickly to the rank of principal dancer, a position he held for 34 years. Together with Haydée, Birgit Keil, Egon Madsen, Ray Barra, he was one of a small group of magnetic performers for whom Cranko choreographed his greatest ballets. With the help of these dancers, Cranko put Stuttgart Ballet on the international map. (See Evan McKie’s “Dance Matters” on the Stuttgart’s 50th birthday.)
Cragun and Haydée in MacMillan's Requiem (1976). Photo by Leslie E. Spatt, Dance Magazine Archives.
Cranko created many roles for Cragun, including the leads in The Taming of the Shrew, Opus I, Poéme de l’extase, and Initials R.B.M.E., Cranko’s homage to four of his leading dancers. Kenneth MacMillan created roles for Cragun in Requiem and My Brother, My Sisters; John Neumeier gave him the role of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire; and William Forsythe made the title role in his Orpheus for him. In addition, Cragun worked closely with Glen Tetley, Maurice Béjart, Hans van Manen, and Jirí Kylián.
Cragun in Cranko's Romeo and Juliet in 1969. Photo by Dominic, Dance Magazine Archives.
In 1996 Cragun retired from the stage and took on the directorship of the Staatsballett Berlin for three years. He then moved to Brazil, where he directed the Ballet of the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro from 2002 to 2005. In the last few years he created a small contemporary company and was also involved in an educational outreach program for children of the favelas. He died on August 6 in Rio. —Wendy Perron
Cragun after his La Scala debut in 1974. Photo by Peter Friedrich Gorsen, Dance Magazine Archives.