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Sir Frederick William Mallandaine Ashton OM, CH, CBE (17 September 1904 18 October 1988) was a leading international dancer and choreographer. He is most noted as the founder choreographer of the Royal Ballet in London, but also worked as a director and choreographer of opera, film and theatre revues. He was admitted into the Frenchmarker Legion d’Honneur in 1962, was made a Commander of the Order of the Dannebrog in 1963, received the Queen Elizabeth II Coronatation Award from the Royal Academy of Dance in 1959 and the Gold Medal from the Carina Aria Foundation in Sweden in 1972.

Early life

Ashton was born at Guayaquilmarker in Ecuadormarker, in the artistic neighbourhood called Las Peñas, the original founding site of the city.

When he was 13 he witnessed a life-changing event when he attended a performance by the legendary Anna Pavlova in the Municipal Theater in Limamarker, Perumarker. He was so impressed that from that day on he was determined that he would become a dancer.


In 1919 he went to Englandmarker to attend Dover Collegemarker and then to study under the famous Leonide Massine and established a working relationship with the ballet troupe belonging to Marie Rambert and Ninette de Valois. His aim was to become a great dancer, but his late introduction to dancing and slight physique made this a highly difficult ambition to fulfill. However, Rambert discovered Ashton's aptitude for choreography and allowed him to choreograph his first ballet, The Tragedy of Fashion, in 1926, starting a tremendously successful career as a choreographer.

He began his career with the Ballet Rambert which was originally called The Ballet Club. He rose to fame with The Royal Ballet, becoming its resident choreographer in the 1930s. Work from this decade that has stayed in repertory includes Les Patineurs, Les Rendezvous, and A Wedding Bouquet. World War II inspired Ashton to create some works along more sombre lines, including Dante Sonata (recently reconstructed after having been thought lost), and after the war he turned to plotless ballet, with such works as Symphonic Variations and Scènes de ballet. 1948 brought his first major three-act ballet for a British company, Cinderella, which was followed by Sylvia (1952), and Ondine (1958), with choreography created especially to display Margot Fonteyn's unique talents and music by Hans Werner Henze. While Ondine was a vehicle for Fonteyn, Marguerite and Armand displayed the excellence of Fonteyn's partnership with Rudolf Nureyev. His version of La Fille mal gardée was particularly successful, and his broad travesti performances as one of the comic Ugly Stepsisters in Sergei Prokofiev's Cinderella were annual events for many years.

Ashton was Director of the Royal Ballet from 1963 to 1970. He brought new works by Antony Tudor to the company, as well as guaranteeing the survival of several of Nijinska's ballets by having her mount Les Noces and Les Biches. Two important revivals of George Balanchine's works also marked Ashton's time as Director.

He also enjoyed a productive career away from ballet as a choreographer for films, revues, and musicals. His work in opera included, in 1953, directing Kathleen Ferrier in Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice at Covent Garden.


Ashton was a great friend of the Paget family and was a frequent visit to the family seat at Plas Newyddmarker; it was here that one of the Paget daughters, Lady Rose fell hopelessly in love with him; he rebuffed her advances and at one point returned her letters - after having corrected her spelling. Despite this, they remained friends.

In 1962, he was knighted for his services to ballet. He died in 1988 at his home, Chandos Lodge, in Eye, Suffolkmarker, England.

Ashton's nephew, Anthony Russell-Roberts, is the Administrative Director of the Royal Ballet.


  • Frederick Ashton (1904-880: Founder Choreographer of The Royal Ballet. John Percival, for Royal Opera Housemarker's magazine produced for December 2007 production of Les Patineurs and Tales of Beatrix Potter.

Further reading

  • Frederick Ashton: a choreographer and his ballets by Zoë Dominic and John Selwyn Gilbert. London: Harrap, 1971. ISBN-X
  • Frederick Ashton and his ballets by David Vaughan. London: A. and C. Black, 1977. ISBN-X
  • Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton by Julie Kavanagh. London: Faber, 1996. ISBN
  • Following Sir Fred's Steps: Ashton's Legacy edited by Stephanie Jordan and Andrée Grau. London: Dance Books, 1996. ISBN (also available in an online edition - see below)
  • A network of Styles: Discovering the Choreographed Movement of Frederick Ashton by Geraldine Morris. University of Surrey, 2000.

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