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James Wilkie

Ashton

20 posts in this topic

I am very interested in Ashton's choreography as I think it is very beautiful and sometimes relatively simple, but as one of my teachers says 'Less is more'. I not sure if something like this has been posted before but I shall go ahead.

As a British student dancer I am very keen to dance what I feel is my heritage. With Balanchine and Tudor there estates are looked after in Trusts and if the ballets are not up to scratch then the ballets are not performed. I feel therfore that there should be a trust for Ashton to aim to preserve his work.

Now on a lighter note I would like to know what peoples favourite Ashton works are and who they liked dancing them or who the would like to see them danced by.

My list:

'The Dream' with Sarah Wildor as Titania and Johann Kobborg as Oberon.

'Symphonic Variations' but I do not have a favourite in the role.

I also like the choroegraphy that Ashton did for Swan Lake particularly the slow adage solos that put in for Dowell.

Did anyone see the documentry of Dowell on BBC Knowledge as it had some wonderful footage of Dowell dancing in some of Ashtons greats. :)

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James, are you sure that there is no trust for Ashton works?

The company I work for performed Ashton's Monotones I&II, two years ago. Though I don't work in the arm of the organization that licenses ballets, I know that we had very clear rules to follow. Lynn Wallis, who staged the ballet stayed longer (more rehearsal weeks/hours) than most other choreologists get. The ballet was given more stage/tech time than most others.

It seems as though there is a trust or some kind of organization that has it together.

As for favorite Ashton ballets, I adore THE DREAM, LA FILLE MAL GARDEE, MONOTONES I&II, JAZZ CALENDAR, ILLUMINATIONS, and A WEDDING BOUQUET. I was lucky to be involved in those ballets.

There is another that I saw The Royal Ballet perform at the MET in the 80s. Antony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley performed the leads and sets were by David Hockney. I can't remember the name. Maybe someone at BA does.

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What a lovely topic! I'm so glad you want to dance Ashton. I'll post something on this when I'm a bit cooler and my brain is working better!

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I don't think there's an official Trust yet, although there may be one in the works. I believe Ashton's heir controls the repertory, in the sense of who is allowed to perform it and who stages it.

James, I'm very glad to learn of your interest in Ashton. I hope you're not the only one of your generation! There are some of the "lost" ones I'd love to see, including his war ballets ("The Wanderer," "The Quest") and even some of the earlier ones ("Horoscope," which I think really is lost; they left the costumes behind when they had to flee Holland when the war broke out, and "The Lord of Burleigh," "Nocturne" and "Apparitions.") I also hope to see his "Romeo and Juliet" staged again. It was a bomb when it was last put on in Copenhagen, according to dancers because it was not well-staged and directed. And could we have "Sylvia" again?

I admired all of the bits Ashton added to "Swan Lake," especially the waltz, a classical pas de douze, that was quite complex and required a high standard for "top corps" or corpyphee dancers (one of the reasons, I'd guess, that he choreographed it). He choreographed several bits of "Sleeping Beauty" was well that would be nice to get back (garland waltz, a few solos). "Symphonic Variations, " "Monotones," "Daphnis and Chloe," "Fille," "Rhapsody," "Marguerite and Armand" (which isn't a story ballet with gaps in it, but a slide show of potent memories of a dying woman), "Fille," "Les Rendezvous," "Birthday Offering," "Ondine," "Month in the Country," "La Valse" -- well, that would be for a first season of the Ashton Ballet Company, at least :)

I recently had the opportunity to see a film of the first cast of "La Fille mal gardee" and it's Exhibit A in the "They don't dance it like they used to." Ashton is so often done daintily, he's not dainty. The corps in Fille danced BIG -- lots of backbends and arm swoops done extremely fast. (I was told by two Danish Juliets, used to the speed of Bournonville, that Ashton's lovely, lyrical Romeo and Juliet was the fastest choreography they'd ever faced.) So I'd love to see his ballets "danced in Ashton" and not globalglot.

I hope you'll keep us posted on your Ashton journey :)

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About Ashton's musicality, I think he is extremely musical. Not only that, his musicality is unique.

I don't mean this as a put down because I worship Balanchine, but when watching his MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM I see steps and patterns that to my eyes are very similar to those in STARS AND STRIPES and other ballets. Ashton's corps of fairies do fairies in the forest patterns. Ashton's Titania, Oberon, Puck, Bottom and the lovers do steps that I see in no other Ashton ballet. Titania flits like a fairy in Ashton's, in Balanchine's Titania is very beautiful but still dances like a woman more than a fairy to me.

Of course I have the greatest respect for both choreographers and their different musical styles.

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My all-time favourite Ashton ballet is FILLE - favourite Lise was Ann Jenner, and I loved Michael Coleman as Colas. THE DREAM is a close second - with the original cast, of course. I also love SYMPHONIC VARIATIONS. This work is a lot more complex than it looks at first viewing. Ashton was very worried that people thought it looked like something by Balanchine. (He asked me about it once.) I loved the last act that Ashton composed for Swan Lake - and the pas de douze that Alexandra mentions - one of the best walzes around. LOVE the Neopolitan dance - best combo: Ann Jenner and Alex Grant. I love the white Monotones. It was choreographed for a gala/benefit and the other piece was added later. Original cast, of course: Vivyan Lorraine, Dowell, and (I'm blanking out here - help!) Has Jazz Calendar been revived at all? It was a very imaginative piece, and I liked the score. it had the virtue of having a lot of people in it.

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I love virtually all of Ashton's ballets - I like their subtlety and musicality. If I have to pick favourites, I'd go for Symphonic Variations, for pure beauty, Fille for pure happiness, Monotones (the third cast member was Robert Mead, felursus), Month in the Country, and Marguerite and Armand - all with the original sets and costumes, and preferably original casts as well, except for Fille, where I actually preferred Christopher Gable to Blair as Colas, and Ann Jenner to Nerina as Lise. (Incidentally, felursus, there was a Tarantella in this year's Royal Ballet School performance choreographed by Ann Jenner, which certainly brought back happy memories of her enchanting performances of Ashton's Neapolitan Dance.)

Original casts - ah, we have a problem. In so many ballets, Ashton needs Fonteyn. I think, from what I've seen, that ballets made for her lose a bit (a lot?) in the translation to other dancers; but this will only be a problem to my generation and the previous one, who actually saw Fonteyn in Ondine, Marguerite etc. When I saw the recent BRB revivals of Dante Sonata and Scenes de Ballet, I was quite happy with the casting, because I didn't ever see Fonteyn in them.

Of the current dancers - and I haven't seen all of them - I think that Sarah Wildor is the most obviously Ashtonian. It's a matter of musicality and an understanding that ballet is more than just clever feet. I have great hopes for Alina Cojocaru, too, for the same reasons. I'm hoping to see both of them as Titania in August.

Of the current men that Ive seen, I don't think that I've felt that there is anyone who is particularly right for Ashton, so there's probably a niche for you, James! Are there any Ashton parts that you particularly covet?

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Thanks, Helena. I don't know why I was blanking out on Robert Mead's name. Does anybody know where he is/what he is doing now?

I did see the original "Fille" cast - once. I was on a cycling tour of Britain, and I snuck away to London to see two RB performances at Covent Garden. Fille was one and the other was a mixed bill that included Antigone and the Good Humored Ladies (which featured Lydia Sokolova as the elderly lady in the cast. Somewhere I have her autograph.) I can't remember what the first ballet of the evening was, and alas the programme was lost.

I do think I preferred Ann Jenner (she was my favourite Lise). I don't remember if I ever saw Christopher Gable in the role - although I guess I must have - but I adored Michael Coleman as Colas.

A lot of later Ashton was choreographed for dancers other than Fonteyn - Sibley was the first Titania, and the choreography is full of "Sibleyisms". I think that's what Ashton did a lot of - he picked out movement characteristics of the dancer and played them up. A good way of looking at that is to observe the characteristics of the choreography of something like "Enigma Variations" (a gem that no one has yet mentioned) and look at the dancers on whom the roles were made: the choreography fit the dancers like second skins. No wonder it was difficult for the second cast to take on the role.

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Robert Mead worked in Germany after leaving the Royal Ballet, and gained a good reputation as a stager of Ashton ballets. He died in 1988.

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I love FILLE, of course, but my absolute-number-one Ashton ballet is A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. [How the Kennedy Center elected to showcase Guillem in MARGUERITE/ARMAND rather than in MONTH IN COUNTRY -- Guillem's other great Ashton success of late -- is a mystery to me!] I also adore PATINEURS (esp. blue skater solo), RENDEZVOUS (esp. pas de trois), and BIRTHDAY OFFERING (esp. Nerina variation). I also love, in CINDERELLA, the title character's fleet-footed solo with the broom in Act I.

My favorite aspect of Ashton is the fleet-footed-yet-dainty 'taquate' quality of the pointework in many female solos...and in quick-footed male variations. Something very special about it.

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Jeannie I have to agree with you I think Birthday Offering is fantastic.

It's Ashtons use of the upper body that really appeals to me. For example La Valse has to be the most tiring ballet going as its use of the upper body and port de bras is massive.

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James, I thought what you wrote about "La Valse" was very interesting. I've only seen that in the film version, never live, and I never ranked it as one of Ashton's best ballets -- it just looked like a corps de ballet exercise to me (sorry; I'll get out the tape again :) )

Sometimes when Ashton is discussed, there's the sense that he really didn't create that much, or that so much has been lost that there really isn't a repertory, but I think there are at least two dozen ballets that are in repertory (loosely defined; recently performed) or revivable (revived in living memory).

I'll start a list, and if anyone thinks of one I forgot, please add it. (Also, I should have moved this initially but I didn't notice it was on Dancers; moving to Aesthetic Issues).

Full lengths: Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, Sylvia, Ondine, La Fille Mal Gardee, The Two Pigeons.

Les Rendezvous, Les Patineurs, Apparitions, Dante Sonata, Symphonic Variations, Scenes de Ballet, Marguerite and Armand, A Month in the Country, Daphnis and Chloe, Birthday Offering, The Dream, Monotones, Enigma Variations, Jazz Calendar, A Wedding Bouquet, Thais, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, Illuminations, Rhapsody, La Valse.

That's 20 short works and six full lengths. There were also substantial portions of "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" and a lot of pas de deux and diverts for galas.

What have I missed? {I hope it's not necessary to note that I'm not counting works to make a case that Ashton is less than choreographer X, nor more than choreographer Y; just to put together what the surviving repertory is.)

[ 07-09-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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Dream pas de deux masterclass

"Sir Fred Ashton coaches Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell in the final pas de deux from the ballet, then Dowell passes his own tips on to Karen Paisey and Philip Broomhead." 5 parts

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Here are the direct links to the other parts:

Thank you for the heads up, innopac!

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o innopac, thank you!!

He's pretty demanding, but look how they deliver. Also NB how less likely Dowell is to ask for those things -- the shoulders, in particular, or that extra-crossed croisee. The new ballerina has her head vertical at many places where Sibley had hers bowed -- which is DOUBTLESS the posture Ashton wanted, this is the reconciliation pdd and she's still mortified to discover that she was making love to an ass....

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Dream pas de deux masterclass

"Sir Fred Ashton coaches Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell in the final pas de deux from the ballet, then Dowell passes his own tips on to Karen Paisey and Philip Broomhead." 5 parts

Thank you for posting this video. From the premier onwards, I saw every performance of The Dream with this cast for a good number of years.

Nostalgia does not get much better than this. It brought tears to my eye seeing Sir Fred's meticulous attention to detail in the rehearsal. I felt he loved the work and this pairing who realised his work so perfectly. It was The Dream that established Sibley and Dowell as a highlly successful star partnership.

Hearing his voice and seeing him work momentarily closed a gap in my life and showed how much we had lost.

PS Thank you Helene for posting the other videos.

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Dream pas de deux masterclass

"Sir Fred Ashton coaches Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell in the final pas de deux from the ballet, then Dowell passes his own tips on to Karen Paisey and Philip Broomhead." 5 parts

Thank you for posting this video. From the premier onwards, I saw every performance of The Dream with this cast for a good number of years.

Nostalgia does not get much better than this. It brought tears to my eye seeing Sir Fred's meticulous attention to detail in the rehearsal. I felt he loved the work and this pairing who realised his work so perfectly. It was The Dream that established Sibley and Dowell as a highlly successful star partnership.

Hearing his voice and seeing him work momentarily closed a gap in my life and showed how much we had lost.

PS Thank you Helene for posting the other videos.

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Many thanks for this wonderful viewing of the rehearsal of the Dream. I was very fortunate to have seen Sibley and Dowell in Swan Lake, Symphonic Variations, Triad and Enigma Variations, at the Met many years ago. I can still remember those performances to this day, and I also miss the anticipation of going to the theatre, to see these great artists. How sad now that the Ashton era is gone.

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Sibley was so beautiful from the waist up, and upper and lower body were so integrated.

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Thank you innopac, Helene, for the Ashton masterclass video.

Absolutely fascinating choreographic session!

Ashton is imcomparable.

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