Obituary: Bill Cratty

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The Independent Culture
BILL CRATTY embraced the dance world with a hungry enthusiasm, driven to experience it in all its different guises before he was struck down by liver cancer with little warning at the age of 47.

An expatriate living in London since 1993, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1951. After training as a dancer he joined the distinguished Jose Limn Company in 1974 where he became a soloist. There he performed in many works by famous names of modern dance - Kurt Jooss, Doris Humphrey, Murray Louis, Charles Weidman - as well as Jose Limn himself.

He also began choreographing, creating in 1981 his best-known piece, The Kitchen Table, a cartoonish, quirkily expressionist portrait of family life which ran counter to the plotless "dance about dance" creed of his contemporaries. The Limn company staged it and other companies acquired it, including Ballet Rambert in Britain.

Cratty left Limn in 1982 to form the Bill Cratty Dance Theatre, a showcase for his own work which lasted six years, appearing in New York and on tours. His starting-point was always the music, but he also believed in character, narrative and accessibility. He said he tried to give each piece "a musical, choreographic, theatrical personality - new, perhaps surprising, and hopefully entertaining".

He also continued dancing, guesting with companies in North America, Mexico and Europe. He was a member of Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project during its 1992 tour to Europe and to Sadler's Wells in London. Audiences saw an exceptionally handsome figure on stage, over six feet tall, with athletic proportions. Often, a long body means weak control and fuzzy-edged ranginess, but he was, as Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times wrote, "a very pure and concentrated dancer".

He had in the past accepted many teaching assignments at American colleges when in 1993 the Laban Centre in London asked him to join their faculty. He was appointed director of Transitions Dance Company, founded by the Laban Centre to give graduates performing experience between college and professional life. In this capacity he created three pieces and invited established choreographers such as Richard Alston, Lea Anderson and Yolande Snaith. He also worked as a freelance choreographer, making in 1997 a dance-film for BBC TV, The Poison Tree, inspired by a William Blake poem.

With Transitions he toured extensively each year in the UK and abroad. The student-performers found him a tough taskmaster, as his partner, Trader Selkirk, explains. "He cared, really cared, about teaching his dancers, because he wanted them to be tremendous. He would have preferred them to like him more while this was happening; he was so demanding. But he came from an American tradition of extreme technique, where dancers train very hard and he wanted that for them."

The experience might have been gruelling, but afterwards he often got thank-you letters. "I had no idea what you were talking about at the time," was the typical gist. "But now I've got a job, I know."

Nadine Meisner

William Anthony Cratty, dancer, choreographer, teacher and director: born Cleveland, Ohio 28 February 1951; died London 9 September 1998.