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A guide to Sir Frederick Ashton

We look back at the career and legacy of the founder choreographer of The Royal Ballet.

By Lottie Butler (Former Assistant Content Producer (News and Social Media))

21 June 2012 at 10.46am | 3 Comments

Frederick Ashton was inspired to dance at the age of 13, when he saw a performance by the legendary Anna Pavlova. He went on to become one of the most distinguished choreographers of the 20th century, creating more than a hundred ballets over an illustrious 60-year career.

His most celebrated works include La Fille mal Gardée, recently screened live around the world as part of the Royal Opera House Cinema Season. A quintessentially English ballet based on Ashton’s beloved Suffolk, it is famous for its clog dance and choreography involving ribbons.

Although his choreography is often said to embody the elegance and lyricism of English ballet, Ashton was actually raised in South America. Born in Ecuador in 1904, he spent his childhood in Lima, Peru, until he was sent to an English boarding school at the age of 14. He started dancing at 20, attending classes on Saturday afternoons with renowned dancer and choreographer Leonid Massine. He went on to train with Marie Rambert and Bronislava Nijinska, choreographing his first ballet, A Tragedy of Fashion, when he was just 21.

View our gallery of production images from Ashton's works, past and present:

Over the following years, he created numerous works for both Rambert and Royal Ballet Founder Ninette de Valois, becoming principal choreographer of De Valois’s Vic-Wells Ballet in 1933. He also distinguished himself as a mime and character dancer in productions such as Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty.

Ashton choreographed his first ballet for the Covent Garden main stage, Symphonic Variations, in 1946, and went on to create numerous ballets for the famous partnership of Margaret Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, such as Marguerite and Armand. In 1970, his last year as Director of The Royal Ballet, he created the popular The Tales of Beatrix Potter:

The Frederick Ashton Foundation was launched in 2011 to preserve the legacy of Ashton, and his work continues to form a key part of The Royal Ballet repertory. View our archive gallery of Royal Ballet events featuring Frederick Ashton.

This article has 3 comments

  1. Talento ecuatorina - Sir Frederick Ashton nacio en Ecuador.

  2. E Ncube responded on 26 June 2012 at 9:13pm Reply

    A really useful resource for A Level Dance students who are studying The Royal Ballet 1956 - 1977.

  3. Wonderful article and accompanying videos. Lottie Butler has done a superb job of conveying Sir Frederick Ashton's range of choreography.

    I am working on a book about Franklin White (character dancer and mime), who was with the Ballet Rambert from age 8, then, in 1942, joined Sadler's Wells (later the Royal Ballet. He watched while the great choreographers developed their dances and performed in many.

    If anyone can put me in contact with people who might have known him (he died in 2013 at age 90), please contact me at Thank you.

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