Most recent performance
There are currently no scheduled performances of Symphonic Variations. It was last on stage 18 October—12 November 2014 as part of the Autumn 2014/15 season.
Ashton was inspired to create a ballet on the four seasons – but as he began to choreograph he refined and purified until the ballet shook off its original meaning, emerging as an abstract celebration of movement and physicality.
Symphonic Variations was Frederick Ashton's first work after returning from his RAF posting during World War II. It was one of the Company's first works for the huge main stage of the Royal Opera House, and Ashton and his designer Sophie Fedorovitch agonized over ways to make sure the ballet would register to the back of the enormous auditorium. The result, first performed on 21 April 1946, became a cornerstone of The Royal Ballet's repertory and is acclaimed as one of Ashton's very finest works.
The ballet is for just six dancers, who never leave the stage. In perfect response to César Franck's brooding Variations symphoniques for piano and orchestra the dancers coalesce in a series of quartets, duets, sextets and solos. The flow of dancing quickens and slows but retains throughout a sense of serenity and spaciousness – a hint at the mysticism and spirituality Ashton had studied during World War II, and which had a clear impact on his choreography.
News and features
29 July 2015
The Royal Ballet Principals perform an extract of Frederick Ashton's ballet in this unreleased clip.
23 October 2014
Exclusive online films celebrate the choreographer and his work, and include his signature ‘Fred Step’ in super slow motion.
22 October 2014
Audience comments from the first night of works by Frederick Ashton, including Scènes de ballet and Symphonic Variations.
17 October 2014
The choreographer’s signature appears in nearly all his ballets – but it's not always easy to spot.
16 October 2014
Amendments announced and casting confirmed for Cassandra, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, Symphonic Variations, Ceremony of Innocence and The Age of Anxiety.
6 October 2014
Our quick guide to Scènes de ballet, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, Symphonic Variations and A Month in the Country.
Symphonic Variations is a one-act ballet by Frederick Ashton set to the eponymous music (M. 46) of César Franck. The premiere, performed by the Sadler's Wells Ballet, took place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 24 April 1946 in a triple bill; the other works were Ashton's Les Patineurs and Robert Helpmann's Adam Zero. The ballet was conducted by Constant Lambert and the set designed by Sophie Fedorovitch.