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- May 30, 1977
- Vol. 7
- No. 21
Richard Cragun and His Boss Marcia Haydee Are Ballet's Dream Team
Marcia is artistic director of West Germany's renowned Stuttgart Ballet, which this week begins a two-month U.S. tour at Kennedy Center in Washington. As if being one of the world's few female directors of a ballet company were not distinction enough, Haydée is the only director anywhere to run an international classical company while still its principal dancer. Teamed with Richard, who at 32 is eight years her junior, they've created the most electrifying ballet pairing since Fonteyn and Nureyev.
When Marcia first met Ricky at rehearsal in 1962, she "thought he was a conceited boy." Cragun was a seemingly brash 17-year-old American apprentice with Stuttgart. Even then, at 25, the Brazilian-born Marcia was Stuttgart's prima ballerina. Reluctant to approach Marcia, Ricky admired her "exotic and intriguing" Latin flavor from a worshipful distance. "There seemed to be a tragedy within her that she wasn't aware of," he muses. "I found it hauntingly beautiful."
It wasn't until a train ride back from a Nutcracker performance in Mannheim, when Marcia curled up against Ricky, that he "knew something was happening and I wasn't repelling her anymore." They moved in together two months later and, says Marcia confidently, "Neither of us has ever been interested in anyone else."
Haydée became Stuttgart's director this year, four years after the death of John Cranko, who with Marcia as his star had transformed the once moribund company into one of the most innovative in the world. Ricky, meanwhile, has so secured his high position among international dancers that Britain's Guardian raved, "There is no male dancer to rival Cragun in eloquent classicism." With 147 pounds stretched over his sinewy 5'11" frame (with a 26" waist), Ricky is an exceptional athlete in a field that, for all its dainty image, is as physically grueling as pro football. "Ricky is a fantastic dancing machine," admires assistant director Alan Beale. "He's a Rolls-Royce."
Despite all their shared success, Cragun and Haydée insist that living together does not necessarily fate them to dance together. "Some married couples can never dance together. Each of us has separate partnerships that work equally well," Marcia notes. "It would be ridiculous to have only one partner."
The most telling symbiosis in their relationship emerges during rehearsals, where Marcia pushes Ricky relentlessly (as she does all her dancers, who call her "Mama Marcia"). "She controls me in a way that makes me forget we're living together," Ricky explains. "There's no masculine bit of, 'Woman, you can't tell me what to do!' " (Marcia is uninhibited about their relationship. "Hug me gently," she advises during rehearsal, "like you do in bed.")
Ricky, in turn, acts as the mercurial Marcia's stabilizer. As a friend puts it, Ricky "counts to 10. Marcia doesn't even get to one." Haydée agrees. "Ricky has helped me become a real woman. You can't be unless you're in love. If there were more Rickys in the world, no one would need to go to a psychiatrist."
Both Cragun and Haydée were precocious balletomanes. Marcia, born in a Rio de Janeiro suburb to a Portuguese-Brazilian gynecologist and his Italian-Argentinian wife, couldn't sit still, even at 3, when the radio was on. "I'd be up and dancing with a scarf at every waltz." She saw Sleeping Beauty at 4 and "from then on, it was only ballet. I had no interest in dolls or games." At 7 she debuted as the page in Der Rosenkavalier, and at 14 joined the corps of Rio's ballet school. She went on to London's Royal Ballet school. Then, accepted by the Marquis de Cuevas Ballet in Paris, she lost a year fighting a weight problem. (She had bloated to 135 pounds; now, at 5'3", she's 98.) In 1961 she auditioned for Cranko, who, to her amazement—and everyone else's—accepted her not merely as a member of the corps de ballet but as his prima ballerina. She became the centerpiece of his succession of brilliant and original ballets—The Taming of the Shrew, Eugene Onegin.
Ricky, the son of a would-be actor who wound up as chief librarian of Sacramento City College, was "running, jumping and whirling every time I heard music in the house." At 5 his dad took him to see Singin' in the Rain and "That was it." With movie hoofer Donald O'Connor as "my first absolute idol," Cragun started tap classes that same year and leaped into ballet at 11 in a local children's production of Cinderella. ("The attraction of ballet was the jumping.") Hoping to sign on with Leningrad's Kirov Ballet ("the mecca, especially for men"), Cragun won a scholarship to Canada's Banff School of Fine Arts at 15, reached London at 16 and the insular industrial town of Stuttgart at 17. And there he stayed. "Suddenly I realized, 'This is where I belong,' " he says. "I fell in love with everything." Not the least of which was Marcia.
The two of them live in a sumptuously furnished three-bedroom maisonette crammed with pewter and plants ("The plants like Bach, Liszt and Mahler," Marcia jokes; "if I play ballet music, they go spastic and die") just three minutes from the theater in their white Mercedes 250SL. At home they speak English but switch to Portuguese to communicate privately beyond their four walls. Cragun is also fluent in German, as is Haydée, who also speaks French, Italian and Spanish. To relax they slip into the nearby Black Forest for a weekend of hiking and saunas. At home Ricky often whips up a stack of pancakes "as an outlet when I get depressed, even at 2 a.m." Whatever fights they have, they both say, come from their differences in temperament. "We have a rule never to go to sleep without resolving conflict," says Ricky. "Sometimes it keeps us up the whole night. It would be a dishwater affair without these flareups."
Marriage? "I don't know what that would bring us that we don't already have," Marcia muses, "except higher taxes." (West German law encourages two big earners to stay single.) As for children, Ricky says, "Marcia would be a fantastic mother but only if she gave up everything." She adds, "I do feel like a mother to my dancers. I worry about their problems." To Ricky, his and Marcia's life together seems remarkably complete now. "We are fulfilling ourselves within Stuttgart's boundaries," he says. "There is more than enough right here."
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