I found a lot of food for thought here, and much that could be discussed.
Much of the history of modern ballet is the history of adaptations of the standard classroom steps worked out by Marius Petipa and his staff at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet in the late nineteenth century. Michel Fokine softened the steps; Léonide Massine bent them to character study; Balanchine made them sleek and fast and modernist. But those people began studying ballet in childhood. The academic vocabulary was their past; they had to make their own future. Ashton’s story was different. He, too, decided young that he would be a ballet dancer. (He made up his mind at the age of thirteen, at a performance by Anna Pavlova.) ...
With only one exception, that of his English colleague Antony Tudor, no other major ballet choreographer began studying the art at so late an age, and I believe this had a huge effect on Ashton. In his eyes, the academic ballet was in no way old hat, something that needed to be adapted. He had waited for it, longed for it, for years. And so, in his work, the classroom steps are treated like treasured possessions. He can’t stop bringing them out, showing them to us. Temps de flèche, double saut de basque, grand battement en cloche—They are so beautiful, we hear him thinking. Can’t he get just one more in? And he does. No old coot in “Enigma Variations” is so busy with his pipe that he can’t perform a perfect arabesque, atop a bicycle. This is not to say that Ashton didn’t modify the Russian lexicon. He did. He cut it up, elaborated on it. But always, beaming through his personal style, we see the academic steps—isolated, precise, displayed just as themselves, for themselves.