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. Beginning with his birth in the South African town of Rustenberg in 1927, it follows Cranko through his early years at Sadler’s Wells and the Royal Ballet under Ninette de Valois, as well as his celebrated career heading up the Stuttgart Ballet. 


Killar is not only a former Artistic Director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, but he also danced under Cranko in Stuttgart from 1962 to 1967. Romeo and Juliet and Onegin were both created at that time, and he is ideally placed to conduct this forensic examination of Cranko’s work. Keeping dance terminology to a minimum, Killar adopts a narratological approach. He focuses on Cranko’s choreography as a storytelling device in the context of what was happening on stage, and he acknowledges the vital role of designers like Jürgen Rose and Desmond Heeley.

The ballet world is small indeed, and in addition to these two designers,...