Saturday, July 14, 2012

Isadora Duncan & Frederick Ashton

Tamara Rojo as Isadora Duncan
For most of my life I have not been a fan of Frederick Ashton's choreography. I enjoyed La Fille Mal Gardee but everything else seemed to me to be decidedly third rate. I disliked most of his work and I could and to some extent still can never understand what the fuss about Ashton's choreography is about.

Apart from Fille virtually all his works were designed for Margot Fonteyn who had great charisma but was never an outstanding dancer technically. Her performance relied on her personality which was so spellbinding that she could convince a dustman that she was the finest ballet dancer in the world. This went on for years bolstered by Covent Garden, Ninette de Valois and Fonteyn's mother aided and abetted by Sir Frederick Ashton.

MacMillian who was a truly fine choreographer had to put up with a 45 year old Fonteyn for the first night of Romeo and Juliet even though he had choreographed it for Lynne Seymour. This Fonteyn conspiracy put back the development of British ballet for decades as no other ballerina was given a chance and Ashton was deprived of the dancers who could do justice to his talent. He spent most of his life trying to make an aging Fonteyn look good.

La Fille mal Gardee was an exception as Fonteyn was ill and Ashton had a ballerina Nadia Nerina who had a brilliant balletic technique and for once Ashton could show what he could do. If only he had been allowed to develop.

Over the past ten years a new generation of ballerinas has been let loose on the Ashton choreography and they can actually perform it. These contemporary ballerinas have made me rethink my attitude and in fact some of Ashton's choreography when performed by dancers who are capable of dancing it technically make it look beautiful. 

Tamara Rojo in Isadora is one. Frederick Ashton, aged 18, saw Isadora Duncan perform in Peru and it left a profound impression on him. The short ballet is his recreation of that performance. It is beautiful. In the first waltz one can see where he got the inspiration for the shadow dance in Ondine.

I love Nunez in Ashton's Sylvia and Cojocaro in his Cinderella. They show Ashton's choreography off to its best. I have revised my opinion. Ashton is now very good second rate but he could have been first rate along with MacMillan, Cranko, Nureyev and Murphy. We shall never know what he might have achieved.

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