New John Cranko School opens in Stuttgart

David Mead

Twenty-three years ago, as he was being shown around the old John Cranko School by former Stuttgart Ballet Artistic Director Reid Anderson, then Lord Mayor of Stuttgart Wolfgang Schuster famously said, “This building is so small and shabby that I am shocked and ashamed that our talented ballet students have to work here. What we need is not a renovation but a whole new school.”

It has been a long wait, but the keys to a brand new, state of the art building have now been handed to Tadeusz Matacz, Director of the John Cranko School, in a ceremony that included Winfried Kretschmann, Prime Minister of the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Fritz Kuhn, Lord Mayor of the City of Stuttgart.

Ballet studio with a view of the school gardenPhoto Roman Novitzky
Ballet studio with a view of the school garden
Photo Roman Novitzky

The spectacular new building, designed by German architects Stefan Burger and Birgit Rudacs, is ten times the size of the old school and is the first purpose built school of its kind in Germany. The €60 million project was financed by the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the city of Stuttgart, the car manufacturer Porsche (the main corporate sponsor of the Stuttgart Ballet), as well as private and other corporate donors.

A ballet school for the 21st-century

The 11,000 m2 new building includes eight studios, four of 208 m2 and four of 131 m2. One of the studios has a raked floor to provide the students with the invaluable experience of working on a raked stage. There’s also a 200-seat black box theatre that has the dimensions of the stage of the Stuttgart Opera House; physiotherapy and fitness centres for Stuttgart Ballet and the students; and secure accommodation for 82 students including kitchens and lounges.

Reid Anderson Rehearsal StagePhoto Roman Novitzky
Reid Anderson Rehearsal Stage
Photo Roman Novitzky

The new building also has space for a library, classrooms for dance history, music theory, anatomy and other subjects, and plenty of storage space.

It is light years away from the old school, which certainly felt welcoming, warm and friendly but when I visited a few years ago equally felt like something out of the 1970s. Layout, decor, everything. Hardly surprising really, because in essence that’s precisely what it was.

The new John Cranko School is the only professional ballet school in all of Germany to have been purpose designed and built. All other schools are located in renovated buildings which were originally constructed for other purposes.

Marcia Haydée Studio from the outsidePhoto Roman Novitzky
Marcia Haydée Studio from the outside
Photo Roman Novitzky

Located just five minutes’ walk from the Opera House, the design of the new school makes good use of the hill into which it is built. The building’s four segments flow gracefully from one level to the next, echoing the city’s distinctive ‘Staeffele’, the many small staircases that provide useful short cuts for pedestrians

Although appearing monolithic from the outside, inside all is light and airy with plenty of natural light in studios and corridors and terraces on each of its ten floors. The views across the city and to the Opera House are stunning.

23 years in the making

For twenty years after that visit by Wolfgang Schuster, and as politicians came and went, Reid Anderson continued to fight tirelessly for the realisation of the project. The necessity and benefits were understood by all. The main point of contention was the location. Anderson insisted it be as close as possible to the opera house. But that meant right in the city centre, where it seemed everywhere was already taken, designated for other purposes or simply astronomically expensive. Fittingly, in the end it was Schuster who found the ideal spot, a plot remarkably close to the theatre, and owned by the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Marcia Haydée Studio from the insidePhoto Roman Novitzky
Marcia Haydée Studio from the inside
Photo Roman Novitzky

Financing hurdles had to be overcome. The school, like the company, is jointly financed by the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg and the city of Stuttgart, which meant the project had to be approved by both legislatures. To make it clear to the local politicians how important the school is to the city and the region, private individuals came together as Friends of the Cranko School and “Building Block Donors” to raise over €l million of seed money. Thenm in 2013, Porsche pledged €10 million.

With the financing secure and the location agreed, an architectural competition was held and won by Burger Rudacs Architects from Munich. The ground-breaking ceremony took place in July 2015.

Over the next five years, Tadeusz Matacz, Director of the John Cranko School since 1998, advised the architects and builders every step of the way as to the special requirements for a ballet school, from room temperature and size of the mirrors to sprung floors and acoustics as well as ensuring that each dorm room has its own private bathroom, a detail which has proven invaluable since the advent of COVID-19. Supporting Matacz all the way were Anderson; his successor as Stuttgart Ballet Artistic Director, Tames Detrich; and Marc-Oliver Hendriks, Executive Director of the State Theatre. The building process was overseen by the Finance Ministry of Baden-Wuerttemberg and the Ministry for Research, Science and the Arts.

View from the terrace of the canteen and the boarding schoolPhoto Roman Novitzky
View from the terrace of the canteen and the boarding school
Photo Roman Novitzky

A fitting, living, breathing monument to John Cranko

Founded in 1971, the John Cranko School was the first ballet school in all of then West Germany to provide a consistent and professional dance education from beginners through to graduates. Cranko’s dream and vision was of a world class school that would eventually provide Stuttgart Ballet with superb dancers – much as the schools in St. Petersburg, Paris or London do for their respective companies.

That dream became reality. Over 65% of the Stuttgart Ballet’s present dancers are graduates of the Cranko School, including principals Alicia Amatriain, Hyo-Jung Kang, Anna Osadcenko and Adhonay Soares da Silva. Noted choreographers who are alumni include Uwe Scholz, Christian Spuck and Demis Volpi.

Exterior view of the new buildingPhoto Roman Novitzky
Exterior view of the new building
Photo Roman Novitzky

In a fitting tribute, the school’s eight studios have been named after John Cranko’s four muses Marcia Haydée, Birgit Keil, Richard Cragun and Egon Madsen; as well as after Anne Wooliams, first director of the school (1971 -1976); Heinz Clauss, former principal dancer of the Stuttgart Ballet and second director of the school (1976-1990); the famous Russian pedagogue Petr Pestov who taught at the school from1996 to 2011; and Georgette Tsinguirides, the noted choreologist who notated many of John Cranko’s ballet and thus preserved them for posterity. Last but not least, the black box theatre and rehearsal stage, which will be used by both the company and the school, is named after Reid Anderson, the man who more than any other made the impossible dream a reality.