When to see it
This work is being performed as part of a mixed programme:
Ashton’s sublime modernist ballet is a counterpoint to this much-anticipated revival of his charming comic romance.
These two short, non-narrative ballets each present an extended pas de trois that is perfectly matched to Satie’s haunting music.
Frederick Ashton distilled the exquisite tranquility of Erik Satie’s pieces in Monotones I and II, which display some of his most modernist choreography. Monotones II was created first and given its premiere at the Royal Opera House in 1965, accompanied by Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies. Ashton created a second piece to Satie’s Trois Gnossiennes (Monotones I), and the two were presented together the following year, with Satie’s Préludes d’Eginhard included as an overture.
Monotones I opens with a slow, serene pas de trois in a wonderful example of adagio classicism. The dancers remain on stage throughout the entire work, with their smooth lines of movement unbroken. Monotones II features another pas de trois that mirrors the controlled movements of the first. Satie’s delicate music, coupled with Ashton’s beautiful choreography, is exquisitely haunting.
Frederick Ashton created more than one hundred works during his lifetime (1904–88). For further information, please visit www.frederickashton.org.uk.
News and features
19 November 2015
What did you think of The Royal Ballet's Mixed Programme of works by Frederick Ashton?
13 November 2015
Our quick introduction to this mixed programme of works by Frederick Ashton, Founder Choreographer of The Royal Ballet.
10 November 2015
Ashton’s abstract masterpiece subtly reflects the unearthly world of Satie’s hypnotic Trois Gymnopédies.
5 May 2015
Principal casting for performances from September 2015-January 2016 has been announced.
15 April 2015
The Season opens with John Fulljames and Hofesh Shechter's staging of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice starring Juan Diego Flórez, and includes a world premiere of Carlos Acosta's Carmen.
15 April 2015
Details of The Royal Ballet’s 2015/16 Season have been announced.
Monotones is a ballet in two parts by Frederick Ashton based on the music of Erik Satie. Monotones II was created first as a gala piece for a gala performance in aid of the Royal Ballet Benevolent Fund in 1965. Ashton had long been inspired by the Gymnopedies by Erik Satie of 1888 and took orchestrations by Claude Debussy and Roland Emmaneul as the basis of a pas de trois for two men and one woman. The premiere was on 24 March 1965 with Vyvyan Lorraine, Anthony Dowell, and Robert Mead. The piece was a great success – so much so that in 1966, Ashton enlarged the piece so that it would be long enough to be performed in the normal repertory, by the addition of Monotones I, which formed an overture to the earlier work. This piece in many ways forms a mirror image of Monotones II. Based on Satie's Gnoissienes, it is another pas de trois, but in this case for two women and one man; the premiere was given by Antoinette Sibley, Georgina Parkinson, and Brian Shaw. Ashton took his cues in choreographing the ballet from the form, structure and inspiration of Satie's music. The ternary structure of the Gymnopedies and Gnossienes supports what has been referred to as a "trinitarian obsession" of Ashton's. The two sections of the work also represent a contrast between the earthiness of the Gnoissienes in Monotones I - where the characters wear green costumes, engage in weighty and accented lunges, and shield their eyes from the sun - and the celestial, infinite and seamless qualities of the Gymnopedies in Monotones II, where the dancers are white-costumed, lit from above, and perform suspended arabesques, the men lifting the woman to "walk on air". The work uses classical language in its choreography, and like his Symphonic Variations represents a pinnacle of Ashton's own classicism. On his death, Ashton's will left the ballet to the care of Tony Dyson, now chair of the Frederick Ashton Foundation.