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Sir Frederick Ashton

Choreographer

OM, CH, CBE
Born: Guayaquil, Ecuador 17 September 1904
Died: Chandos Lodge, Eye, Suffolk, England 18 August 1988

Sir Frederick Ashton was born in Ecuador in 1904 and determined to become a dancer after seeing Anna Pavlova dance in 1917 in Lima, Peru. Arriving in London, he studied with Leonide Massine and later with Dame Marie Rambert (who encouraged his first ventures in choreography) as well as dancing briefly in Ida Rubinstein’s company (1928-1929).

A Tragedy of Fashion (in which he danced alongside Dame Marie Rambert) was followed by further choreographies (Capriol Suite, Façade, Les Rendezvous), until in 1935 he accepted Dame Ninette de Valois’ invitation to join her Vic-Wells Ballet as dancer and choreographer, his principal loyalty remaining with what would become the Sadler’s Wells and ultimately The Royal Ballet. It was in 1935, too, that Ashton began a long creative association with Margot Fonteyn, for whom he would create many great roles over 25 years.

In addition to his pre-war ballets at Sadler’s Wells (which demonstrated an increasing authority, with larger resources), Ashton choreographed for revues and musicals. His career would also embrace opera, film and international commissions, creating ballets in New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, Copenhagen and Milan. During the War, he served in the RAF (1941-1945) before creating Symphonic Variations for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet’s 1946 season in its new home at Covent Garden, affirming a new spirit of classicism and modernity in English postwar ballet.

During the next two decades, Ashton’s ballets, often created around the talents of particular dancers, included Scénes de Ballet and Cinderella (1948), in which Ashton and Robert Helpmann famously played the Ugly Sisters, Daphnis and Chloe (1951), Romeo and Juliet (1955), La Valse and Ondine (1958). He created La Fille mal Gardée (1960) for Nadia Nerina and David Blair, The Two Pigeons (1961) for Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable, Marguerite and Armand (1963) for Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev and The Dream (1964) for Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell.

Appointed Associate Director of The Royal Ballet in 1952, Ashton succeeded de Valois as Director in 1963 and under his direction until 1970, the company rose to new heights, while his choreographic career continued with Monotones II (1965), Jazz Calendar, Enigma Variations (1968), A Month in the Country (1976) and the popular film success The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971) in which he performed the role of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

Named Founder Choreographer of The Royal Ballet and knighted in 1962, Ashton died in 1988. His ballets, which remain in the international repertory undiminished, show a remarkable versatility, a lyrical and highly sensitive musicality and an equal facility for recreating historical ballets and creating new works. If any single artist can be said to have formulated a native English classical ballet style and developed it over a lifetime, it is Sir Frederick Ashton.

Ashton ballets in The Sarasota Ballet repertoire: Apparitions⁺, A Wedding BouquetBirthday Offering, Enigma Variations⁺, Façade, Illuminations, Jazz CalendarLa chatte métamorphosée en femmeLa Fille mal GardéeLes PatineursLes RendezvousMarguerite and Armand⁺, Méditation from Thaïs, Monotones I, Monotones IIRhapsody Pas de DeuxScènes de ballet⁺, Sinfonietta†, The Sleeping Beauty Awakening Pas de DeuxSymphonic Variations, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Two PigeonsValses nobles et sentimentales, Voices of Spring Pas de Deux, The Walk to The Paradise Garden

†American premiere
⁺first American company to perform ballet

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