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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

The Royal Ballet to tour the USA in June 2015

The Royal Ballet to tour the USA in June 2015

15 January 2015

The Company will perform in Washington D.C., Chicago and New York over the course of three weeks.

Christopher Wheeldon and the many different styles that bring Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to life

Christopher Wheeldon and the many different styles that bring Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to life

1 December 2014

To create his ballet the choreographer drew on everything from classical ballet to tap and Broadway musicals.

Britten and ballet: A surprisingly rich relationship

Britten and ballet: A surprisingly rich relationship

31 October 2014

Although he only created one full-length ballet, the composer had more to do with dance than you might think.

Watch: BBC Arts’ Frederick Ashton tribute films

Watch: BBC Arts’ Frederick Ashton tribute films

23 October 2014

Exclusive online films celebrate the choreographer and his work, and include his signature ‘Fred Step’ in super slow motion.

Your reaction: Ashton Mixed Programme 2014

Your reaction: Ashton Mixed Programme 2014

22 October 2014

Audience comments from the first night of works by Frederick Ashton, including Scènes de ballet and Symphonic Variations.

'Away from all the slander of the world': a letter from Frederick Ashton in the ROH Collections

'Away from all the slander of the world': a letter from Frederick Ashton in the ROH Collections

21 October 2014

In this 1948 letter to dancer Richard Beard, Ashton discusses the creative process behind Scènes de ballet.

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

Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev during rehearsals

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

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

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

Frederick Ashton as The Showman in Petrushka

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 eight 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

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

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

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

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

Frederick Ashton as The Showman in Petrushka

Page ten of 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 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

Fernando Montaño as the Jester in Cinderella

Royal Ballet in rehearsal

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

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

Dame Monica Mason in Les Noces (1967)

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 nine 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 four 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