Ashton, Frederick William Mallandaine (1904–1988) By Morris, Geraldine
Frederick Ashton was a British choreographer and dancer whose work significantly contributed to the development and identity of The Royal Ballet. Along with its founder, Ninette de Valois, and music director, Constant Lambert, Ashton is regarded as one of its main architects and more broadly as a major creator of British ballet style. He was the company’s principal choreographer between 1935 and 1970, and its director from 1963. Inheriting the avant-gardism of the Ballets Russes, he pushed and molded it to suit his own purposes. Concentrating chiefly on one-act works, his main stimulus was dance itself; ballet movement was central to his work. Even when he used narrative, he did so largely to explore dance. As a frequent collaborator with other modernist artists, he created works that were innovative and occasionally challenging: In 1934, he made the dances for Gertrude Stein’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts and, in 1937, her ballet A Wedding Bouquet, while in 1950 he choreographed Illuminations for the New York City Ballet to Benjamin Britten’s setting of Arthur Rimbaud’s poems. Despite the reservations of Constant Lambert and the English music press, he used four of Stravinsky’s scores, two of which were in mixed media: Persephone (1961) and Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) (1981).