Accessibility links


Sign In
  • Home
  • News
  • Ballet Essentials: The Royal Ballet's Ashton mixed programme

Ballet Essentials: The Royal Ballet's Ashton mixed programme

Our quick guide to Scènes de ballet, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, Symphonic Variations and A Month in the Country.

By Rachel Thomas (Former Content Producer (Ballet))

6 October 2014 at 2.34pm | 2 Comments


Founder Choreographer of The Royal Ballet

Frederick Ashton was born in Ecuador in 1904 and trained with Leonid Massine and Marie Rambert. He created his first ballet aged just 21 and became chief choreographer at the Vic-Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet) in 1935. Over the next 50 years he produced some eighty works that came to define the ‘English style’. Many of these remain key pieces in the Company’s repertory.

Refreshing Tradition – Scènes de ballet

Ashton created Scènes de ballet in 1948, to a score by Stravinsky. The score is Stravinsky's homage to Tchaikovsky – and so accordingly Ashton makes his ballet a celebration of Marius Petipa, Tchaikovsky's choreographic counterpart. The ballet follows the structure of a typical classical finale, and even references the famous Rose Adage from The Sleeping Beauty. However, Ashton gave Scènes a chic modern twist by giving the corps de ballet brilliantly striking patterns inspired by Euclidean geometry.

Ashton's Muses – Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan

Ashton had several muses throughout his career – most famously Margot Fonteyn. Another figure who had an enormous impact upon his work was the American dancer Isadora Duncan. Ashton first saw Duncan dance when he was just 17, and was immediately transfixed. In Five Brahms Waltzes (1976), created several years after her death, he aimed to recapture Duncan’s unique, carefree style of dancing, while at the same time drawing on the particular talents of Lynn Seymour, who created the role.

The English Tradition – Symphonic Variations

Symphonic Variations is widely regarded as one of Ashton’s masterpieces. It was the choreographer’s first ballet created for the enormous Royal Opera House main stage; and rather than a grand narrative ballet, he went against the trend by opting for pure, abstract ballet that celebrates dance itself. The result is a work that perfectly encapsulates the English tradition, integrating fleet footwork and expressive épaulement with lyrical, musically sensitive choreography to César Franck's score.

Poetry in Movement – A Month in the Country

Ashton was inspired to create A Month in the Country when he saw a production of Ivan Turgenev's five-act play of the same name at the National Theatre. The resulting ballet – one of Ashton’s last works for The Royal Ballet – won immediate acclaim for its skilful distillation of the play into just 40 minutes of choreography. The ballet, set to music by Chopin, is most celebrated for its four pas de deux, which portray the conflicting and tangled emotions aroused by a young tutor’s arrival in a Russian household.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Nick responded on 18 October 2014 at 12:16am Reply

    Thank you for this. It's really helpful!

  2. lynda jones responded on 3 November 2014 at 10:01am Reply

    Thank you so much for the information on this ballet. I am coming tomoro night and this has helped me to understand the titles

Comment on this article

Your email will not be published

Website URL is optional