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Frederick Ashton

Choreographer

Biography

Frederick Ashton in action.
Frederick Ashton 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 1935 he was appointed Resident 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

New look: the living history of Marguerite and Armand’s designs

7 June 2017
New look: the living history of <em>Marguerite and Armand</em>’s designs

Dresses worn by Margot Fonteyn and Sylvie Guillem reveal how every element of a ballet is carefully re-assessed for each revival.

Your Reaction: What did you think of The Royal Ballet's mixed programme of Ashton ballets?

6 June 2017
Your Reaction: What did you think of The Royal Ballet's mixed programme of Ashton ballets?

Audience reactions to The Dream / Symphonic Variations / Marguerite and Armand.

Ballet Essentials: The Dream / Symphonic Variations / Marguerite and Armand

30 May 2017
Ballet Essentials: <em>The Dream</em> / <em>Symphonic Variations</em> / <em>Marguerite and Armand</em>

Everything you need to know about this mixed programme of great works by The Royal Ballet’s Founder Choreographer, Frederick Ashton.

Photos

Anya Linden, David Blair, Margot Fonteyn and Annette Page in The Royal Ballet revival of Symphonic Variations. Photograph by Roger Wood.

Marianela Nuñez as Sylvia and Vadim Muntagirov as Aminta in Sylvia.

Marianela Nuñez as Sylvia and Artists of The Royal Ballet in Sylvia.

Lesley Collier and Mikhail Baryshnikov in Frederick Ashton's Rhapsody (1980). Photo

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

Tamara Rojo as Marguerite and Sergei Polunin as Armand in Marguerite and Armand

Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev during rehearsals

Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin in Marguerite and Armand.

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

Frederick Ashton as the Showman in Petrushka, The Royal Ballet 1957. Photograph by Roger Wood

Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev during rehearsals

Vadim Muntagirov as Aminta in Sylvia.

Marianela Nuñez as Sylvia in Sylvia.

Marianela Nuñez as Sylvia and Vadim Muntagirov as Aminta in Sylvia.

Frederick Ashton in Facade

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

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

Tamara Rojo as Marguerite, Sergei Polunin as Armand in Marguerite and Armand

Christopher Saunders and Tamara Rojo in Marguerite and Armand, Oct 2011

Frederick Ashton as A Dago in Facade

Vadim Muntagirov as Aminta in Sylvia.

Vadim Muntagirov as Aminta and Thiago Soares as Orion in Sylvia.

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