Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope perform a pas de deux from Frederick Ashton’s Awakening.
Founding Choreographer of The Royal Ballet Frederick Ashton (1904–88) was one of the most influential dance figures of the 20th century. In his work with the Company he developed the distinctive ‘English style’, and left a vast corpus of works that are regularly performed by The Royal Ballet and companies around the world, among them La Fille mal gardée, Marguerite and Armand and Symphonic Variations.
Ashton was born in Ecuador to British parents. He first saw ballet when Anna Pavlova performed in Lima in 1917, later claiming ‘from the end of that evening I wanted to dance’. In England Ashton was tutored by Leonid Massine and made his choreographic debut for Marie Rambert in 1926. After working with Rambert and Ida Rubinstein, in 1938 he was appointed principal choreographer of Vic-Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet) by Ninette de Valois. With De Valois Ashton played a crucial role in determining the course of the Company and The Royal Ballet School. In 1963 he took over from De Valois as Director of the Company and introduced several significant works, including Nijinska’s Les Noces and Balanchine’s Serenade, and commissioned MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. He retired in 1970 but continued to choreograph throughout his life, producing his last major work, Rhapsody, in 1980.
Ashton’s style is distinctive for its épaulement (the way the head and shoulders are held) and fleet footwork. All are notable for their combination of elegance and breathtaking technical demands.