The Company Index
Frederick Ashton was born in Guayaquil in Ecuador on 17 September 1904.
He was brought up in Peru, and it was there, in 1917, that he saw his first
ballet. He was enthralled by Anna Pavlova's performance, and decided that
he wanted to dance. Having come to England to work, he began to study with
Léonide Massine, but family disapproval forced him to keep this secret.
However, in 1926, after two years' tuition, Massine was no longer able to
teach the 22-year-old Ashton and recommended him to Marie Rambert. It was
she who convinced him of his potential as a choreographer, and he created
his first choreography, A Tragedy of Fashion, a short while later.
In 1928, he joined Ida Rubinstein's company as a dancer under Bronislava Nijinska.
Whilst he was with the company he became something of an apprentice to Nijinska. She was
a hard taskmaster, but Ashton learnt a lot from her. He also danced in most of the
company's performances, including Ida Rubenstein's famous interpretation of Bolero.
However, Nijinska found having to give Ida Rubinstein a role in every new ballet very difficult
and left the company. So, a year
later, Ashton returned to Rambert's company for further instruction in choreography. Over
the next few years, with works such as Capriol Suite (1930) and Façade
(1931), he became known as a choreographer and was appointed Chief
Choreographer of the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1935. He was to hold this
position, in various guises, for 35 years. Many of his most celebrated
ballets date from his time with the Company, as the Vic-Wells ballet, later Sadler's
Wells Ballet and ultimately The Royal Ballet. These include Les
Patineurs (1937), Dante Sonata (1940), Symphonic Variations, Scènes de ballet and
Cinderella (1948). In 1950 he was made a CBE.
In 1952 he was made Associate Director of The Royal Ballet and
he continued to choreograph. Two of his best-known works, La Fille
mal gardée (1960) and The Two Pigeons (1961), date from this time.
In 1962 he was knighted and made a Chevalier of the Légion
d'honneur and a year later was appointed Director of the Royal
Ballet. The Dream, Monotones (I and II) and Enigma Variations were all
premiered with The Royal Ballet in the late 1960s before his
retirement in 1970.
After his retirement, Ashton continued to choreograph and worked on
three ballet films. One of these was The Tales of Beatrix Potter, in
which he appeared himself, as Mrs Tiggy Winkle. He created his last
work, Rhapsody, in 1980 and died in Sussex in 1988, aged 84.