The great choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton (1904-1988) did not just bear witness to decades of transformations, revolutions and innovations in ballet—he was one of the most prominent architects of the new landscape. Director of the Royal Ballet for almost forty years and choreographer of nearly a hundred ballets, he was an artist of vision and character, qualities that come through beautifully in this sumptuous triple program.
In 1946, Ashton staged César Franck’s Symphonic Variations, a non-programmatic work (i.e., without a clear narrative arc), as a powerful abstract spectacle for the human body, with six soloists who remain onstage throughout. Narrative structure returns in 1964's The Dream—inspired by Shakespeare, by way of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—in which the dancer playing Oberon performs one of the most demanding male roles in the repertoire, a near-unprecedented technical challenge en pointe. Finally, the bewitching Marguerite and Armand (1963), created for Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn and set to Liszt’s tempestuous Sonata in B Minor, depicts an elegant and heartrending love story.