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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 introduced several significant works, including Nijinska's Les Noces and Balanchine's Serenade, and commissioned 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 are notable for their combination of elegance and breathtaking technical demands.

Videos

News and features

Recommended recordings: Ballet DVDs

Recommended recordings: Ballet DVDs

24 January 2014

Recent releases include the Royal Ballet programme featuring Tamara Rojo's final performance with the Company, and a duo of Sadler's Wells recordings.

The Royal Ballet Dances Frederick Ashton broadcast in cinemas tonight (15 July)

The Royal Ballet Dances Frederick Ashton broadcast in cinemas tonight (15 July)

15 July 2013

Mixed programme stars Edward Watson, Marianela Nuñez, Federico Bonelli, Sergei Polunin and others.

Tickets now available for the ROH Summer Cinema Season 2013

Tickets now available for the ROH Summer Cinema Season 2013

12 July 2013

Opera and ballet screenings include Rigoletto, La fille mal gardée, Macbeth and The Royal Ballet dances Frederick Ashton.

Editathon offers a chance to improve ballet
 entries on Wikipedia

Editathon offers a chance to improve ballet
 entries on Wikipedia

1 July 2013

An ROH Student Ambassador joins event focusing on Frederick Ashton.

The Royal Ballet dances Frederick Ashton in cinemas during summer 2013

The Royal Ballet dances Frederick Ashton in cinemas during summer 2013

23 February 2013

As our mixed programme comes to an end on stage we look ahead to a release in cinemas and on DVD.

Dancing for Fred

Dancing for Fred

18 February 2013

What being in the studio with Frederick Ashton was really like.

Photos

Frederick Ashton

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

Alexandra Ansanelli as Ondine and Valeri Hristov as Palemon in Ondine. © Dee Conway / ROH 2008

Dame Monica Mason in Les Noces (1967) © Donald Southern/ROH 1967

Royal Ballet in rehearsal ©ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke 2012

Royal Ballet in rehearsal ©ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke 2012

Royal Ballet in rehearsal ©ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke 2012

Royal Ballet in rehearsal ©ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke 2012

Royal Ballet in rehearsal ©ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke 2012

Royal Ballet in rehearsal ©ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke 2012

Royal Ballet in rehearsal ©ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke 2012

Frederick Ashton as The Showman in Petrushka © Roger Wood/ROH 1957

Frederick Ashton as The Showman in Petrushka © Roger Wood/ROH 1957

A Gala Tribute to Sir Frederick Ashton in celebration of his 80th Birthday, 18 October 1984 © Donald Southern/ROH 1984

Frederick Ashton on stage after A Gala Tribute to Sir Frederick Ashton in celebration of his 80th Birthday, 18 October 1984 © Donald Southern/ROH 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 © Donald Southern/ROH 2012

Margot Fonteyn, Michael Somes and Frederick Ashton in rehearsal for Ondine © Roger Wood/ROH 1958

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

Margaret Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyer and Frederick Ashton at the Silver Jubilee Photo Donald Southern © Donald Southern/ROH

Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpmann in rehearsals for Cinderella © Donald Southern/ROH 1948

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

Zenaida Yanowsky as Marguerite and Artists of The Royal Ballet in Marguerite and Armand © Tristram Kenton/ROH 2011

Fernando Montaño as the Jester in Cinderella © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2010

Rupert Pennefather, Laura Morera and Marianela Nuñez in Sylvia, The Royal Ballet © ROH/Tristram Kenton, 2010

Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev during rehearsals © 1962 Royal Opera House/Donald Southern