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Frederick Ashton his works and his style.

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Some time ago a number of people indicated that they wanted to know more about the choreographer and his works.It might be helpful if those who want to know more about him could give some idea of what they want to know. Are you looking for details about books to read, recordings of his ballets or general comments and insights into the essence of his style?

 

Whatever you are looking for you need to remember that he began making ballets in the 1920's and was still choreographing nearly sixty years later.The first great dancer for whom he choreographed was Alicia Markova; the dancer on whom he created most of his ballets may have been Fonteyn but some of his greatest ballets were created on the next generation of dancers  Nerina, Sibley and Seymour. While we see him as primarily a choreographer for women he created great roles and a great deal of challenging choreography for male dancers too.

 

Here is my initial contribution about Ashton's style it was given by Markova in a tribute programme broadcast at the time of his death. She was probably in a better position to identify the sources of his style than most because she was only six years younger than he was and had seen and experienced many of things which influenced him. She said that Ashton was Cecchetti below the waist and Duncan above the waist. 

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...... Here is my initial contribution about Ashton's style it was given by Markova in a tribute programme broadcast at the time of his death.

 

Sorry Floss if I'm being stupid - is there a link to your initial contribution? I can't find it!

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David. There is no link. What I have given is Markova's account of Ashton's style in a nutshell. Cecchetti and Duncan which seem contradictory but are capable of being a harmonious whole with dancers such as Morera and Cervera who are willing and able to commit to making it work in performance. 

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Are you looking for details about books to read, recordings of his ballets or general comments and insights into the essence of his style?

 

Whatever you've got and are willing (and have the time) to share with us!

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Whatever you've got and are willing (and have the time) to share with us!

 

My sentiments exactly !

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Maybe you could discuss individual ballets and outline the main technical,historical and style issues?

 

You should charge Floss! You are so knowledgeable.

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Big Ashton fan here and I have just started reading Secret Muses - the life of Frederick Ashton by Julie Kavangh. It's a huge book but very easy to read. There's a Fonteyn event run by the Ivy House programme at JW3 in London (nearest tube is Finchley Road) on Sunday and I get the impression her story will be very much interwoven with his as one of his key muses. Tickets still seem to be available...

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Secret Muses contains as full account of Ashton's life and career as we are likely to get. If you are interested in learning more about his ballets then David Vaughan's "Frederick Ashton and his Ballets" is essential reading. If you are interested in a brief description of Ashton's style then the starting point has to be Alicia Markova who said that it was Cecchetti below the waist and Duncan above the waist.

 

I don't think that we will get very far with simple descriptions of what Ashton's ballets should look like in performance but the internet provides opportunities to watch sections of some of his works being danced. In some cases it offers the possibility, to compare and contrast performances danced during Ashton's lifetime and those rehearsed and coached by Michael Somes who remained in charge of the Ashton repertory for some years after the choreographer's death with more recent ones. As it is often said that the problem with reviving Ashton's ballets is that they were completely tailored for their original casts I thought it might help to begin with a ballet that was created on another company. So my first suggestion is that you should watch La Valse. This ballet was created for the La Scala company in 1958. It entered the repertory of the Covent Garden Company a few years later. It has been recorded twice. First during the 1960's and again a couple of years ago, The first recording is on the DVD "An Evening with the Royal Ballet". If you google "La Valse Ballet" you should be able to access the recording on which it appears. It begins about 38 minutes in.It opens with an indistinct image obscured by clouds. Persevere the director is following Ravel's stage directions to the letter. Once you have watched the work search out the recent recording. You may find the 50 plus second excerpt of the recent recording is sufficient for this exercise. Now ask yourself whether either of the two accounts reflects the quotation that Ravel placed on the score " We were dancing on the edge of a volcano".

Edited by FLOSS
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Here are some more opportunities to contrast and compare Ashton then and now. Wherever possible the recordings will include one that was filmed while Ashton was still actively involved in staging his own work or while Michael Some's was custodian of the Ashton repertory.

 

The first piece concerns the person who Markova said had the greatest influence on Ashton's use of the upper body, Isadora Duncan. Ashton only saw her towards the end of her life but while Balanchine described her as a fat pig Ashton was clearly impressed by what he saw,part of which was its apparent spontaneity. Fokine who saw her early in her career said that her importance lay in reminding people about the effectiveness of simple movement.

 

This time I am going to suggest that you search for Five Brahm's Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan as danced by Lynn Seymour and as danced by Tamara Rojo. You need to exercise a degree of caution because at least one person has described Rojo's performance as being danced by Seymour.You can easily tell the difference as the later recording is of far better visual quality than the one from the 1970's.This piece is an evocation,it's not a pastiche or a literal minded reconstruction. In its initial form, a single waltz created for a gala in Germany, it was an attempt to give the audience an insight into why Duncan was so important in the history of twentieth century dance. In it's revised form it was, more than anything, a present for one of the founders of British ballet. Ashton added four more waltzes for the celebration of the Rambert company's fiftieth anniversary. He gave Marie Rambert, who had been a great Duncan enthusiast, a preview. Her response to Seymour's performance was to say words to the effect of "That's what it was like".

 

I am also going to suggest that you search out two recordings of White Monotones aka Monotones 2. Here you need to search for a recording made in the late 1970's with Derman, Silver and Deane. It isn't an ideal cast as Deane visibly sags and puts considerably less effort into what he is doing than he should but it does show you the ballet danced as a continuous flow of movement. The cast in the modern recording includes Nunez. Here the problem is that the entire piece is performed as if the dancers should freeze frame poses at regular intervals.Somewhere deep in the vaults of the BBC, unless it has been wiped , there should be a recording of the original cast. Who knows one day it may become available.

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Just in case these sessions have not been noted anywhere on here:

 

The Chairman and Trustees of the Frederick Ashton Foundation cordially invite you to
ASHTON REDISCOVERED
A series of filmed masterclasses given by the original casts of rarely performed works by Frederick Ashton.
Presented by Alastair Macaulay and featuring dancers of
The Royal Ballet.
The Royal Ballet School, 46 Floral Street, London WC2E 9DA
Sunday 18 September 2016 with Anthony Dowell
2.30 – 5.30pm
 
Dance of the Blessed Spirits (Dance in the Elysian Fields) (1978): Vadim Muntagirov
The Sleeping Beauty, Prince Florimund’s Variation, Act II (1968): Reece Clarke
Introduction, discussion and Q&A led by Alastair Macaulay, followed by reception
Sunday 13 November 2016 with Merle Park
2.30 – 5.30pm
 
The Walk to the Paradise Garden (1972): Akane Takada and Ryoichi Hirano
Introduction, discussion and Q&A led by Alastair Macaulay, followed by reception
Sunday 19 February 2017 with Donald MacLeary and Darcey Bussell
2.30 – 5.30pm
 
Raymonda pas de deux (1962): Marianela Nuñez and tba.
Introduction, discussion and Q&A led by Alastair Macaulay, followed by reception
 
 
For an application form email:ashtonrediscovered@yahoo.com
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Many thanks for this info Capybara am definitely interested in these events especially in the September one.

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Thanks so much for these posts Floss. I've done the Monotones comparison and when I eventually spotted the differences it was a revelation. Had to do it with the sound down though as the sound on the old one was unbearable! La Valse next.

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... but it does show you the ballet danced as a continuous flow of movement. The cast in the modern recording includes Nunez. Here the problem is that the entire piece is performed as if the dancers should freeze frame poses at regular intervals.

 

For me it seems this is becoming a trend. Maybe because of increased "quality control" on correct lines and/or clean feet/positions before and after a movement? I don't know. You can easily take nice pictures of many moments, but what happens in-between, the actual dancing movement, receives less attention, is made with less grace, meaning and intensity than it deserved. I have an annoyingly ease to notice, as for me it is a major flaw :unsure: Of course, when I say it happens more often doesn't mean I find all dancers (or their coachers!!!) "guilty". But anyway more common now, even in principals. Sad.

Edited by MaggiM
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Many thanks FLOSS for the compare and contrast  suggestions. I've finally managed to do them all and the differences are riveting.   I wonder why anyone would choose the more recent reading of monotones over the "continuous flow of movement" of the earlier recording? If I'm not mistaken the music is a bit slower  - could this be the reason?  Or would the dancers have asked for a slower tempo in order to perform it in the somewhat "posey" manner?   Quite interesting...

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It is difficult to say when the sluggish, "wading through treacle" musical style became popular as there was always the occasional conductor willing to indulge the dancers. Emmanuel Young used to be my bugbear and I always tried to avoid any performance which he was conducting for that reason. But I think that the slow performance style and indulgence of dancers has been encouraged by the employment of Russian conductors for Russian classics in the last twenty years. 

 

The trend to a pose and freeze frame style has got a lot to do with the Vaganova method and what Morrison describes as its absolutist view of how steps should be performed. According to her this absolutist attitude towards classroom steps reduces the ability of dancers to adjust to, and accept, the choreographers's  modification of classroom steps in performance. I think it is one of the things that Donald MacLeary was speaking about when he talks of ballet as a theatrical art form.

 

Then there is the fact that everyone has access to the internet which means that dancers can see what others are doing and can incorporate that into their performance. If the coaches are amenable changes creep in without any one really grasping the true effect on a performance. How many dancers are really aware of what their performance looks like from out front or what  impact changing a couple of apparently insignificant steps will have on what the audience sees? Then there is the idea that what is taught now is better and the belief that because the young can do things that the older dancers could not have done that the new is better than the old rather than simply seeing it as different.. In the course of coaching Two Pigeons I believe that Christopher Carr said "We do ...position better now" which of  course meant that if he was encouraging the dancers to do a position in the modern standard classroom form fashion and ignoring the form of the step that Ashton expected to see.

 

If change is taking place in front of you and you are part of it you are unlikely to notice it. In much the same way as you don't notice how old your parents have become when you see them virtually every  day. Go away for a month or two and then you really notice it. 

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I agree, but worth pointing out the Russians have been dancing according to Vaganova principles for a very long time now and they haven't always slowed things down, but if there is a flaw in the Vaganova method it is the emphasis on andante at the cost of allegro. 

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Capybara

Thank you so  much for pointing out that the films of some of the Ashton masterclasses held recently by the foundation are now available on line.There is some fabulous material available here including Dowell coaching Reece Clarke in the prince's moody solo from act 2 Sleeping Beauty and Vadim Muntagirov in Ashton's third version of the Dance of the Blessed Spirits. Both are fascinating to watch.The  Dance of the Blessed Spirits is a real rarity as it was only performed a handful of times while the Prince's Solo is part of the standard repertory.This latter piece is of real interest to any one who wonders how choreographic detail and meaning gets lost. It shows anyone who is at all familiar with the RB's production and its choreographic accretions how this short section of choreography which originally was an expression of the prince's emotional state has been smoothed down and reduced to classical choreography over the years to the extent that in many performances it looks like a ghastly technical minefield rather than an expression of the prince's longing.  

 

As so many of us have recently had the opportunity to see Ashton's Dream perhaps it would be of interest to look at a performance danced by a cast all of whom were familiar with the his style and danced his choreography idiomatically rather than putting it on and taking it off like a coat.There is a recording floating around on the internet  of the Dream made in 1978. The entire cast dances the Ashton choreography idiomatically and it makes a difference.The cast is headed by Park and Dowell and the bulk of the dancers appearing in this recording had been involved with the ballet since its premiere. It is a fascinating opportunity to see the ballet performed by dancers who by this time had the ballet in their bones and were coached by Ashton himself.  

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There is also a recording of the full pdd with Sibley and Dowell on the Ed Sullivan Show recorded in 1965. It is amazing quality, and with close ups - they are both incredibly beautiful, Dowell is only 22 yet appears so assured. The ballet is only 1 year old at this stage and I think it is the only clear and complete recording of Sibley and Dowell in the pdd. It's still unbelievable that the original cast were never filmed in a full performance.

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The BBC broadcast the Dream in March 1968 with the original cast on BBC1.I  have been warned by someone who had the good luck to have seen the original cast in the very early years of the ballet that he thought it had been filmed before the cast had finely conquered the choreography and turned the reconciliation pas de deux into the beautifully flowing thing it became. But there again perhaps it looked like that on television because the camera brings you that much closer to the dancers. Of course it is too much to hope but perhaps it will turn up on the ICA label in a restored state. We had to wait for fifty years for the recording of the original cast performance of Fille to be issued on DVD. Perhaps as the recording of the Dream will be fifty years old this year it too will be issued on DVD in due course. The BBC only allocated forty five minutes to the whole performance but I find it hard to believe that it was cut.

 

Although I have to say that the two recordings of Ashton ballets that i would really love to get my hands on are restored copies of the film of The Enigma Variations danced by the original cast which was made by the Argos film company and the recording of Symphonic Variations which was made for Granada television in the !970's.It has an ideal cast, if not the ideal cast, of Sibley, Dowell, Penney, Coleman ( in the Brian Shaw role), Ann Jenner and Gary Sherwood.Tiny snippets of this recording turn up on the internet and even with the distortions caused by filming the images on the television screen it is quite wonderful as everyone knows how to dance it as a flow of movement. The entire cast is so musically aware and astute that they are able to bring shading and a sense of poetry to their performances. In large part this is because the casts were not changed each time it was revived. I once went through the performance database looking at the casts for Symphonic Variations and  Scenes de Ballet and discovered that during a fairly extensive period there was a nucleus of dancers who appeared in Symphonic revival after revival with the occasional dancer given an opportunity to dance it but rarely used again and that the ballerina role and the main male role in Scenes were even more exclusive. Dancers were not given the opportunity to show they could do with the roles they were selected for them. It is easy to forget what a fine classical dancer Coleman was capable of being, but for years he danced the male lead with Sibley, the preferred exponent of the ballerina lead, or Penney a close second. This suggests that the criteria applied to casting the ballerina role was the ability to dance  Aurora in the grand manner rather than anything else.

 

If you really want to make yourself miserable about the gems that lie locked away somewhere in the archives take a look at the Ashton Filmography and then trawl through the BBC Genome where you can look at back copies of the Radio Times. The thing that really makes my mouth water is not a film but a talk that went out on what I think was still the third programme, rather than Radio 3,  when the company first staged Les Noces. The talk is about the significance of Les Noces and the speakers are Ashton and Nabokov. I just hope that someone realised the importance of the talk and that it was either recorded in its entirety or that it was at least published in its entirety in The Listener. 

Edited by FLOSS
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I would kill for the chance to see the 1968 Ashton production of the Sleeping Beauty. I hope that a complete copy exists somewhere.

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CHazell,

 

I feel sure that the full recording exists somewhere and that if the BBC cared enough about it they would look long and hard for it and, if after a long, careful search,they could not find it, they would make a national appeal for it and if that was unsuccessful they would ,make the same appeal internationally.  After all the Beeb did that for missing episodes of Dr Who. But of course Dr Who is culturally significant in a way that a mere ballet can never be.One is popular entertainment while the other is an elite entertainment for a metropolitan cultural elite.

 

I saw the Peter Wright production in the theatre. I should like to be reminded about what the Fairy Variations looked like at that time. It is a long time ago but I think that they were danced with even more musical and artistic imagination than you can see in the 1978 recording. Ashton took great care of everything which his company danced, and is said to have taken greater care over the revivals of other people's choreography than he did of his own. He said  words to the effect that it was the director's duty to oversee everything that his company danced. He looked after the girls coming down the ramp in Nureyev's Kingdom of the Shades with as much care as he did the Diaghilev repertory. I think that the reason that the company's golden age coincided with his directorship was not just because of the quality of the company's dancers, it was also attributable the level of the scrutiny and care he exercised over every ballet his company performed. He watched performances giving his dancers notes as soon as the curtain fell and his level of concern and care for the artistic standards of his company  showed in every performance the company gave.

 

Edited by FLOSS
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10 hours ago, FLOSS said:

 

Although I have to say that the two recordings of Ashton ballets that i would really love to get my hands on are restored copies of the film of The Enigma Variations danced by the original cast which was made by the Argos film company and the recording of Symphonic Variations which was made for Granada television in the !970's.It has an ideal cast, if not the ideal cast, of Sibley, Dowell, Penney, Coleman ( in the Brian Shaw role), Ann Jenner and Gary Sherwood.Tiny snippets of this recording turn up on the internet and even with the distortions caused by filming the images on the television screen it is quite wonderful as everyone knows how to dance it as a flow of movement. The entire cast is so musically aware and astute that they are able to bring shading and a sense of poetry to their performances. In large part this is because the casts were not changed each time it was revived. I once went through the performance database looking at the casts for Symphonic Variations and  Scenes de Ballet and discovered that during a fairly extensive period there was a nucleus of dancers who appeared in Symphonic revival after revival with the occasional dancer given an opportunity to dance it but rarely used again and that the ballerina role and the main male role in Scenes were even more exclusive. Dancers were not given the opportunity to show they could do with the roles they were selected for them. It is easy to forget what a fine classical dancer Coleman was capable of being, but for years he danced the male lead with Sibley, the preferred exponent of the ballerina lead, or Penney a close second. This suggests that the criteria applied to casting the ballerina role was the ability to dance  Aurora in the grand manner rather than anything else.

 

If you really want to make yourself miserable about the gems that lie locked away somewhere in the archives take a look at the Ashton Filmography and then trawl through the BBC Genome where you can look at back copies of the Radio Times. The thing that really makes my mouth water is not a film but a talk that went out on what I think was still the third programme, rather than Radio 3,  when the company first staged Les Noces. The talk is about the significance of Les Noces and the speakers are Ashton and Nabokov. I just hope that someone realised the importance of the talk and that it was either recorded in its entirety or that it was at least published in its entirety in The Listener. 

There is a 1977 performance of Symphonic Variations available on YouTube with Park, Jenner, Penney, Wall, Coleman and Eagling. It's pretty grainy, but demonstrates the qualities Floss refers to. 

I think the version of Enigma Variations that Floss mentions is also on YouTube - again quite grainy. Sibley didn't dance in the filmed production but Jenner is a very pleasing substitute. 

 

 

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On 05/01/2018 at 14:34, capybara said:

Recordings of the 2016/17 sessions are now here  :) and it is possible to call up individual items within each

 

http://www.frederickashton.org.uk/rediscovered.html

 

 

Thanks so much Capybara.  Lovely to watch.  What a pity they didn't give Dowell a mic;  I missed much of what he said.  😤

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25 minutes ago, Sim said:

Thanks so much Capybara.  Lovely to watch.  What a pity they didn't give Dowell a mic;  I missed much of what he said.  😤

 

It was even difficult to hear Dowell on the day as he understandably spent much his time with his back to the audience.

It's high time that the RBS got itself 'miked up' as introductions to RBS events are also barely audible.

 

I wonder whether anyone has yet been to an ROH event which has been moved from the Clore to the Linden Studio? Hopefully the choreographers for Draft Works this week will not just be speaking to the front few rows.

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Merle Park and Gary Avis are miked up for the second seasion. Seems like they might have had some technical issues generally for Dowell’s as the q and a wasn’t filmed.

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Some of us made forceful protests on the day - and notice was taken.  I think it was a case of inexperience at the beginning.  The latest series of masterclasses was much better from  a technical point of view.

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On 05/01/2018 at 14:34, capybara said:

Recordings of the 2016/17 sessions are now here  :) and it is possible to call up individual items within each

 

http://www.frederickashton.org.uk/rediscovered.html

 

 

Very much enjoying making my way through these. Would love to attend these and I am local but just don’t have free Sundays!

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