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Frederick Ashton

Choreographer

Biography

Frederick Ashton in action.
Frederick Ashton as A Dago in Facade © Gordon Anthony/ROH 1953

Founding Choreographer of The Royal Ballet Frederick Ashton (1904–88) was one of the most influential dance figures of the 20th century. In his work with the Company he developed the distinctive ‘English style’, and left a vast corpus of works that are regularly performed by The Royal Ballet and companies around the world, among them La Fille mal gardée, Marguerite and Armand and Symphonic Variations.

Ashton was born in Ecuador to British parents. He first saw ballet when Anna Pavlova performed in Lima in 1917, later claiming ‘from the end of that evening I wanted to dance’. In England Ashton was tutored by Leonid Massine and made his choreographic debut for Marie Rambert in 1926. After working with Rambert and Ida Rubinstein, in 1938 he was appointed principal choreographer of Vic-Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet) by Ninette de Valois. With De Valois Ashton played a crucial role in determining the course of the Company and The Royal Ballet School. In 1963 he took over from De Valois as Director of the Company and in addition to choreographing introduced several significant works, including Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces and George Balanchine’s Serenade, and commissioned Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. He retired in 1970 but continued to choreograph throughout his life, producing his last major work, Rhapsody, in 1980.

Ashton’s style is distinctive for its épaulement (the way the head and shoulders are held) and fleet footwork. All his works combine elegance with breathtaking technical demands.

Videos

News and features

Divertissements Ballet Essentials: A guide to short works performed by The Royal Ballet on their 2015 US Tour

Divertissements Ballet Essentials: A guide to short works performed by The Royal Ballet on their 2015 US Tour

15 June 2015

The Company’s selection includes classic works by Ashton and MacMillan, an award-winning recent work by Wheeldon and new piece from within the Company.

Watch: Christopher Carr on working with Frederick Ashton – 'You could always feel this energy around him'

Watch: Christopher Carr on working with Frederick Ashton – 'You could always feel this energy around him'

23 April 2015

The Guest Principal Ballet Master discusses the creative process behind some of The Royal Ballet’s most celebrated productions.

Unmistakably English: Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée

Unmistakably English: Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée

20 April 2015

The choreographer’s glorious romantic comedy evokes his beloved Suffolk and is one of his finest and most characteristic works.

Photos

Page 11 of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Page seven of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Page two of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Frederick Ashton on stage after A Gala Tribute to Sir Frederick Ashton in celebration of his 80th Birthday, 18 October 1984

Frederick Ashton as The Showman in Petrushka

Fernando Montaño as the Jester in Cinderella

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

Dame Monica Mason in Les Noces (1967)

Page ten of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Page nine of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Page eight of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Rupert Pennefather, Laura Morera and Marianela Nuñez in Sylvia, The Royal Ballet

The 25th Anniversary of Sadler's Wells Ballet, 5 May 1956 Roger Wood

Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev and Frederick Ashton at the Silver Jubilee Gala. Photo

A Gala Tribute to Sir Frederick Ashton in celebration of his 80th Birthday, 18 October 1984

Tribute to Sir Frederick Ashton gala at the Royal Opera House to mark the retirement of Sir Frederick Ashton as Director of The Royal Ballet, 24 July 1970

Alexandra Ansanelli as Ondine and Valeri Hristov as Palemon in Ondine.

Zenaida Yanowsky as Marguerite and Artists of The Royal Ballet in Marguerite and Armand

Clipping included with Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Page six of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Page four of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Page one of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Frederick Ashton as A Dago in Facade

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

Margot Fonteyn, Michael Somes and Frederick Ashton in rehearsal for Ondine

Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpmann in rehearsals for Cinderella

Frederick Ashton as The Showman in Petrushka

Frederick Ashton as A Dago in Facade

Envelope of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Page five of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Page three of Frederick Ashton's letter to Richard Beard, 29 January 1948. Reproduced with permission of Anthony Russell Roberts

Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev during rehearsals

Frederick Ashton