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glebb

The Fred Step

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All this discussion of Ashton reminds me of The Fred Step.

I'm under the impression that most Ashton ballets, if not all of them contain a passage known as The Fred Step.

It's a short series of steps. Basically The Fred Step contains the following steps: piqué arabesque, coupé, dévelopé à la seconde (low), pas de bourrée, précipitée. It sometimes has slight variations.

I'm sure I've seen it in A Month in The Country. Natalia Petrovna and Rakitin (her admirer) do it with their backs to the audience. In La Fille Mal Gardee Lise and her friends do it early in the finale. Sir Fred and Margot performed The Fred Step together in her 60th Birthday pas.

Do any of you know where The Fred Step comes in to other Ashton ballets?

(Edited by Victoria, at Mark's request, to place the accent marks!)

[ 07-10-2001: Message edited by: Victoria Leigh ]

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The Fred Step was sort of a touchstone for Ashton. "They think it's mine," he'd confide to someone, "but it's hers!" Referring, of course, to Anna Pavlova. A bit cribbed from her "Menuet Antique".

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David Vaughan wrote about the Fred Step in his biography of Ashton, and mentions which character dances it in which ballets. It does appear in a lot of them. (And I'm pretty sure he wasn't the one that named it "the Fred step.") I can't remember any, but someone else may well be able to.

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ashton and fonteyn did the fred step when they appeared together at the metropolitan opera's 100th birthday gala in 1984.

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One of the essays in "Following Sir Fred's Steps", the published papers from the Ashton Conference at Roehampton College London in 1994, discusses the Fred Step in some detail. According to the author, Adrian Grater, a choreologist and former member of the Royal Ballet, Ashton adopted it as a 'lucky step' after first seeing it performed by Pavlova in her Gavotte. The sequence typically goes: pose en arabesque,coupe dessous, small develope a la seconde, pas de bourree desous, pas de chat. This was the form performed by Ashton himself as one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, and as Mrs Tiggy Winkle in Tales of Beatrix Potter.

David Vaughan first notices the Fred Step in Les Masques (1933). Grater finds it in A Wedding Bouquet (1937) performed by de Valois dancing the part of Webster, the housemaid. It occurs several times in Daphnis and Chloe (1951) and in The Dream (1964). As one of your posters has already suggested, one of Lise's friends dances an abbreviated version in La Fille Mal Gardee (The Flute Dance), before her friends join in. It occurs in the version of Illuminations rechoreographed for the Royal Ballet in 1981 (not the original for NYCB). Here it is danced by eight girls as a variety of characters, such as a chimney sweep, postman, baker, each one carrying an appropriate prop.

A further instance comes from Les Deux Pigeons, when it is performed by the girl's friends as they are greeting Lady Bountiful. Grater also instances "that wonderful exit from Month in the Country".

Finally, as Mme. Hermine has suggested already, Ashton used it when escorting Fonteyn from the stage at the end of Salut d'amour (1984)

I doubt that this collection of papers is still available in print. "In Sir Fred's Steps" is edited by Stephanie Jordan and Andree Grau, the publisher is Dance Books, and the ISBN number is 1 85273 047 1.

I hope this helps.

[ 07-11-2001: Message edited by: Brendan McCarthy ]

[ 07-11-2001: Message edited by: Brendan McCarthy ]

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It certainly does. Thank you, Brendan. I can't resist adding that a friend of mine, a long-time Royal Watcher (long time) grumbled when Vaughan's book came out, "Damn and blast. No one ever noticed that step before; now it's all anyone talks about."

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Oop! You're right, Brendan - it was "Gavotte" (which was done in heeled shoes to "The Glow Worm"). I must have been in a Ravel state of mind when I posted.

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Resurrecting this topic - going into the second week of the Ashton Celebration, I'll admit I haven't seen it once. Looking at steps in Ashton (as in Bournonville) throws me completely off the track of what he's trying to get at. He's not a "vocabulary is content" choreographer, is he? For those who've seen more Ashton than me, is there anything in the Fred Step that's more than an advanced parlor game on the level of looking for the hidden Ninas in a Hirschfeld caricature?

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On the Orange County Cinderella thread The Fred Step came up. I asked about it and Jane Simpson replied, telling me it appears, very clearly, in Cinderella. The dance instructor and the "Ashton" stepsister dance it. Cinderella does it later, in a somewhat modified form, when dancing with her broom in Act I.

Giannina

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I'm sure it's there, as sure as I am of repeated connecting steps in Balanchine. I'm just wondering why we're looking for it! :)

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Leigh, I never look for it - it was years before I knew how I would recognise it, anyway - but I do sometimes notice it, with an inward nod of recognition, as I do other Ashton trademarks like the 'walking on air' lifts. Sometimes it's just there, sometimes it's a mild joke - like in Cinderella; but I think the only time it carries any meaning or emotional weight in its own right is in the little piece he made for Fonteyn, as mentioned above. But I'm sure it's mainly there as a touch of piety for Ashton himself and it wouldn't matter at all if the audience never noticed it.

However - one of my plans for making these old ballets a bit more exciting and interactive is that a green light would flash on the proscenium arch every time the step came along and it would become traditional for the audience to greet it with some unison chant, like 'Fred STEP' clap clap clap.

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We could have cheer leaders with pom poms!

Giannina

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Aside from the "collectors" standpoint (like birders with a life journal of sightings), I think the "Fred step" does have a little kernal of Ashton's style embedded in it. The slight tick-tock nature of the upper body, as it responds to the weight shifts, lends itself to that odd combination of organic intricacy that is so beautiful in his use of epaulment.

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Yes, yes, like a grandfather clock. A wonderful description, Sandi.

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Insight: ABC of Ballet - The Fred Step

"Ursula Hageli, Ballet Mistress with The Royal Ballet, and Romany Pajdak, First Artist, explain The Fred Step, a signature move of the late, great, choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton."

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Indeed thanks -- this is so much better than my trying to demonstrate it!

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This thread, this video, this very concept, o'erwhelms me with happiness and in and of itself makes my membership of this forum worthwhile. Thank you. (I seem to be saying that a lot...)

However - one of my plans for making these old ballets a bit more exciting and interactive is that a green light would flash on the proscenium arch every time the step came along and it would become traditional for the audience to greet it with some unison chant, like 'Fred STEP' clap clap clap.

Jane, I'll definitely be doing this from now on, at least in the privacy of my own sitting-room. biggrin.png A la the tiddly-pom-stretch-clap in certain Hinge & Bracket concerts...

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