Sir Frederick Ashton was born in 1904 in Guayaquil (Ecuador) and spent his youth in Peru, where his father was in diplomatic service. In Lima he first saw the ballerina Anna Pavlova dancing – an event which determined the course of the rest of his life, as from that moment on he decided to become a dancer.
At the age of 15 he moved to England, attended Dover College and finally began to take private ballet lessons from Léonide Massine in London. When Massine left England he introduced Ashton to Marie Rambert. The grand old lady of English dance immediately recognized not only his gift for dancing, but also his choreographic talent, and encouraged him in 1927 to create his first ballet, »A Tragedy of Fashion«. In 1928 Frederick Ashton took up an engagement in the Ida Rubinstein Company, where he worked with the famous dancer and choreographer Bronislava Nijinska and intensively studied her style and her approach to movement. He returned to Marie Rambert in 1929, creating among much else the choreography to William Walton’s composition »Façade«, which was excellently received by the critics. In 1935 Ninette de Valois engaged him at the Vic-Wells Ballet – which later became the Sadler’s Wells Ballet and finally the London Royal Ballet – as dancer and as choreographer-in-chief with the obligation to produce three new ballets per year. From 1942 to 1963 he was Dame Ninette’s deputy and from 1963 to 1970 Director of the company. In 1962 he was awarded a K.B.E. – Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
With his elegantly lyrical, clear and most deeply musical style Frederick Ashton left his mark on English ballet in the 20th century like no other. He created many works for the ballerina Margot Fonteyn, whose career he decisively influenced with his choreographies for more than 25 years. A late distinction as a dancer was his appearance as one of the Ugly Sisters in Kenneth MacMillan’s »Cinderella«.
After giving up the directorship of the Royal Ballet, for whom he had created most of his works, he worked as a freelance choreographer. He contributed to the films »The Tales of Hoffmann« and »The Tales of Beatrix Potter« and to various opera productions. Among his chief choreographic works, both full-length and miniature, must be mentioned: »Façade« (1931), »Les patineurs« (1937), »Dante Sonata« (1940), »Symphonic Variations« (1946), »Scènes de ballet« (1948), »Cinderella« (1948), »Illuminations« (1950), »Daphnis and Chloë« (1951), »Sylvia« (1952), »Undine« (1958), »La fille mal gardée« (1960), »Les deux pigeons« (1961), »Marguérite and Armand« (1963), »The Dream« (1964), »Monotones« (1965 and 1966), »Enigma Variations« (1968), »A Month in the Country« (1976) and »Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan« (1975/1976).
Frederick Ashton died in 1988 in Eye (Suffolk).