Frederick Ashton (1904-1988) grew up in Ecuador, South America. He trained with the choreographer Leonide Massine and with Marie Rambert, who engaged him in the first place to develop his talents as a choreographer.
His first official ballet, A Tragedy of Fashion, dates from 1926 and was part of the revue Riverside Nights. In 1928, he joined the company of Ida Rubinstein in Paris, where he was influenced by Bronislava Nijinska. In 1929, he went to England, where he created several works for Ballet Rambert and the Camargo Society. Meanwhile, he danced in musicals and revues, and was engaged as a dancer with Ballet Rambert, where he danced alongside such famous names as Tamara Karsavina, Lydia Lopokova and Alicia Markova.
Regatta (1931) was his first work for the Vic Wells Ballet, where four years later he was to become a regular guest choreographer; a title he retained until 1948. In 1963, he succeeded Dame Ninette de Valois as the director of the company, which by then was called The Royal Ballet. He remained in that position until he stepped down in 1970.
Ashton’s name is usually mentioned in the same breath as that of Margot Fonteyn, for whom he choreographed many ballets, including Nocturne, Horoscope, Dante Sonata, Symphonic Variations, Daphnis and Chloë, Ondine and Marguerite and Armand (for Fonteyn and Nureyev).
Of the hundred ballets he left behind, many have grown into landmarks: Cinderella, Daphnis and Chloë, The Two Pigeons and Birthday Offering. La Fille mal gardée was a worldwide success. Other well-known works are Rhapsody, Verdi Capricci, A Month in the Country and La Chatte Metamorphoses en Femme. Ashton also did a lot of work for opera, choreographing sections for Four Saints in Three Acts, Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice with Kathleen Ferrier in the title role, and Benjamin Britten’s last opera Death in Venice.
Frederick Ashton died in 1988, at the age of 83, in Eye, Suffolk (UK).
Frederick Ashton was awarded a CBE in 1950, was knighted in 1962 and became a Companion of Honour in 1970. In 1977, he became a member of the British Order of Merit. France admitted him to the Legion d’Honneur in 1962 and Denmark made him a Commander in 1963. He was honoured by the Royal Academy of Dancing with the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, in 1959.
In 1972, he received the Gold Medal from the Swedish organisation Carina Aria. Ashton held honorary doctorates at the Universities of Durham (1962) and East Anglia (1967), and was a Doctor of Music at the Universities of London (1970) and Oxford (1976).