Skaters of all types – nervous beginners and confident experts, disgraceful show-offs and love-struck couples – frolic on a frozen lake, beneath warmly glowing Chinese lanterns.
Frederick Ashton's wonderful evocation of wintry leisure is a firm favourite of The Royal Ballet's repertory. It was first performed on 16 February 1937, with the premiere cast including Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann dancing the enchanting white couple pas de deux. Its blend of sparkling charm and magnificent dance made it an immediate success, while William Chapell's elegant designs have become iconic of the era.
Constant Lambert, a regular collaborator with Ashton, arranged the score from the joyous ice-skating ballet in Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera Le Prophête (1849). In Meyerbeer's day the dancers had been on roller-skates, but Ashton suggests the gliding movement of ice-skating through a vocabulary of virtuoso classical ballet. The continuous flow of skaters culminates in an energetic finale, with the dashing blue boy – ballet's Fred Astaire – endlessly pirouetting as the curtain falls.