Alastair Macaulay has been the chief dance critic of The New York Times since 2007. He was previously the chief theater critic of The Financial Times in London (1994-2007) and the chief dance critic for The Times Literary Supplement (1996-2006), founding editor (1983-88) of the British quarterly Dance Theatre Journal, and a guest dance critic for The New Yorker (1988 and 1992).
On February 5, 2018, Macaulay presented “Ashton and Balanchine: Parallel Lives” to a public audience at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The following is a version of that talk.
Thanks so much. I’ve crossed paths with Jennifer (Homans) over many years, but we really became pals in 2016 thanks to Lincoln Kirstein. I was working on his handwritten diaries as part of my researches into Balanchine’s Serenade1; Jennifer was working in the Library upstairs too, and I was happy to pass on the transcripts I’d made.
It’s an honor to give this Lincoln Kirstein Lecture. I did meet him: I was twenty-four, he seventy-two. We met at a City Ballet performance. He gave me his card and asked me to visit him after the ballet. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I certainly wasn’t expecting what I got, which was two hours of passionate, funny, opinionated conversation. We did touch on both Balanchine and Ashton, as it happens, but so much else too (the vehemence with which he yelled “TETLEY!” about the choreographer Glen Tetley and brought his fist down on the table; the way he said “I’m terrified of her” about Ninette de Valois….); I wish I had it all on tape.
I can’t really say I met Balanchine: I pursued him at the Covent Garden stage door in 1979, I sat two seats away from him at an Alice Tully Hall gala in January 1980, I saw the gala preview of his Walpurgisnacht Ballet (later the same month), and I watched his company dozens of times in New York, London, New York, Paris, and New York during his lifetime.
Ashton I met a few times in the 1980s. Only a few, but they amazed me. He was funny, unpretentious, and very human, which I expected – but also capable of a largeness of spirit, a severity, a freshness and a generosity of thought that I hadn’t anticipated. And, in each of my three longest conversations or interviews with him, we touched on Balanchine.
I’m prejudicing this talk to say more about Ashton, because he’s less familiar here. In London, I’d be saying more about Balanchine.
But there is no better place in the world to be covering this joint subject than the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. (My thanks in particular to Evan Leslie, for taking charge of illustrations and films so well.) There are many films of Ashton choreography here in this Library that they don’t know about in London, details of Ashton history that only fall into place here: astonishing.
And there is no better city to be covering my chosen topic than New York City. The Ashton-Balanchine story is a New York story: you’ll see.
Balanchine, born in St Petersburg, Russia, loved London – but he did once say of it that, there, “to be awake is already vulgar”2. (I suspect he was thinking of Fred Astaire in Top Hat. Astaire loved London too, but the film has that classic moment when all the old buffers are asleep behind their newspapers in the London club; he delivers a ratchet of tap steps to wake them up.)
Ashton loved New York, which he visited often over fifty years – between 1933 and 1983. He told the young Lynn Seymour of all people – Lynn Seymour, the most voluptuous of Royal Ballet dancers, its most radical actress, Canadian-born and Russian-trained – “Stop being so stiff and English!”3 When I asked him about that in 1984, he said “Did I say that to her? Well, I was always trying to knock the Englishness out of all of them.”
The last time I saw him, he said “Oh, lucky you going to New York. Do have a vodka martini for me – only they know how to mix them.”
Later, I found out that after a big Ashton night at the old Met, he used to have five (5) vodka martinis lined up at the bar opposite the stage door. On one occasion he had more than five, and was distinctly green the next day when he boarded the ballet train to Chicago. His friend Alexander Grant, looking at him, said “Freddy, promise me that, if you’re still feeling this ill when we reach Chicago, you’ll see a doctor.” Ashton, unable to speak, agreed with a silent nod. When Grant saw Ashton in the theatre, he said “Freddy, did you see a doctor?” Ashton said “Yes I did. He asked me ‘Mr Ashton, I have to ask you, have you been drinking?” and I replied ‘Yes, doctor, but you don’t understand. Most people drink when they’ve been a failure. I drink when I’ve been a success, and I’ve been a very very very very very BIG success.” 4
Up to the end, he always said that America was where he was appreciated best and most. He had world premieres here in 1981,1983, and 1984, the second just a couple of weeks before Balanchine’s death, the third the following year.
I’m dedicating this talk to Mary Clarke (1923-2015) and David Vaughan (1924-2017), critics and friends who have both died in recent years but to whom I owe much. Mary was for decades the editor of Dancing Times, and, as you’ll soon see, before that, editor of Ballet Annual. In January 1979, I’d only been a critic for eight months, but I was so electrified by the dance criticism of Edwin Denby and Arlene Croce about Balanchine that I knew I had to visit New York. I had no money; thanks to Mary Clarke, Dancing Times advanced me a sum that helped considerably. (I paid it off with my next reviews.) David Vaughan was the author of the definitive Ashton book, which had come out in 1977. I met him here on that first trip; I already knew his book off by heart. We became pen-pals. While I’ve been preparing this talk, I’ve been thinking of him so often.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
ASHTON AND BALANCHINE: PARALLEL LIVES
My title “Ashton and Balanchine: Parallel Lives” refers to the Greek biographer Plutarch. But Plutarch’s method is to compare parallel figures from different periods in Greek and Roman history: Alcibiades and Coriolanus, Alexander and Caesar, Demosthenes and Cicero.
Ashton and Balanchine, however, were born in the same year, 1904. They therefore become parallels in the sense that Handel and Bach were (both born 1685) or Verdi and Wagner (born 1813). There have been exhibitions pairing Picasso and Matisse, and a book comparing Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. With Ashton and Balanchine, we’re talking in the same league.
What’s interesting here is that Balanchine and Ashton were intensely aware of each other, even on opposite sides of the Atlantic: far more than Bach and Handel or Verdi and Wagner. Most of Balanchine’s career occurred in St Petersburg, Paris, and New York; most of Ashton’s occurred in London. Yet their stories overlapped for fifty years: their paths crossed in London, Paris, Milan – but above all New York. Ashton choreographed on American soil in 1934, months before Balanchine did; fifty years later, the year after Balanchine’s death, he had another world premiere here. <CUT ON MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY> In the Eighties, he referred to Balanchine as “a great master (but my ballets have to have a heart)”5; and told of how he threw Gelsey Kirkland’s autobiography scornfully across the room for its ingratitude to Balanchine: “He made her a star!”6 <END OF CUT>
Balanchine’s persona was aloof, and he seldom made a generous remark about any choreographer, especially if they were the competition. Yet he did say, “Mr Ashton and I may make bad ballets, but we never make incompetent ballets.”7 It wasn’t the only compliment he paid Ashton.
Ashton had seen and revered Balanchine’s ballet Apollo with the Diaghilev Ballet in the 1920s8, but for him a key moment came in summer 1933 when Balanchine’s Les Ballets 1933 was in London. Ashton watched most performances and on July 11, replacing Serge Lifar at short notice, he appeared with Alicia Markova as a guest artist, in the pas de deux from Les Sylphides9.
That very night, at a party, he and Diana Gould introduced Balanchine to Lincoln Kirstein. (Kirstein later wrote10 that he had met Balanchine the previous month in Paris, but his diaries disprove this.) Balanchine, in that opening conversation, began to speak of his interest in working in America with American dancers.11 Within weeks, Kirstein made that happen: Balanchine and he sailed to the New World, and on January 1, 1934, they opened the School of American Ballet.
It’s possible that if they’d based it in Hartford, Connecticut, as was the original plan, Balanchine would have choreographed the original production of the Virgil Thomson/ Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts.12 Instead, thanks to Virgil Thomson, the Hartford people turned to, of all people, Ashton, who sailed here in December 1933.
And so it was Ashton, not Balanchine, who was first to choreograph and complete a work on American soil. With an all-African American cast, what’s more. The dancers and singers loved him: they spoke of “Mr Thomson” and “Miss Stein” but of “Freddy”. What’s more, Ashton and the production had a huge success: Four Saints in Three Acts transferred to Broadway – Gershwin went to see it once. Toscanini went twice, Dorothy Parker five times, one woman 17.13 Ashton nearly stayed here – he was persuaded not to by John Martin, the dance critic of the New York Times, who believed that there was no place for Ashton in New York and that “the American dance wasn’t classical”.14 (Motto: NEVER TRUST THE DANCE CRITIC OF THE NEW YORK TIMES.)
<CUT ON MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY> There’s a remarkable passage in Kirstein’s diaries when he relates one of the many tirades delivered by Balanchine’s Russian colleague Vladimir Dimitriew to Balanchine, in December 1934, in the presence of Kirstein and Eddie Warburg. Dimitriew is angry because he thinks Balanchine wants to develop no other choreographer but himself, and that the forthcoming season of their American Ballet will just be Les Ballets Balanchine 1935. The exception is Ashton. Dimitriew tells Balanchine that he only thinks Ashton is a success because he is “bad Balanchine, the way Lichine is bad Massine.” Balanchine utters not a word in reply.15 This is nine months after Ashton has gone home to London; yet he’s still on their minds, and Dimitriew’s outburst shows that Ashton is really the only other choreographer in ballet for whom Balanchine has time.<END OF CUT>
Both were geniuses. To qualify that statement, I’ll say simply that Balanchine was the dominant genius of his art for much of the twentieth century, but that Ashton was so regularly touched by so many aspects of genius that it’s fair to call him one too. When inspiration and uncanny intuition strike like lightning in the same place, that many times over so long a career, we can and should call it genius.
And, though he was certainly influenced by Balanchine from the 1920s onwards, he held his own so well that many people felt then he was Balanchine’s equal. Many still do. This is a man who was admired by Poulenc and Matisse, who worked with André Derain, Eugene Berman, Cecil Beaton, David Hockney, and Derek Jarman, with William Walton, Constant Lambert, Virgil Thomson, Benjamin Britten and Hans Werner Henze. Gertrude Stein’s girlfriend Alice B. Toklas wasn’t sure Ashton was a genius, but Stein herself felt he was, “more than any we have seen in a long time” 16. As for Stravinsky, there were at least three Stravinsky scores Ashton got to before Balanchine did; and he knew Stravinsky as a friend with whom to dine, one to one.
Balanchine and Ashton were alike in one other important respect. As Agnes de Mille spotted in 195117, other choreographers created from torment and made the studio a place of torture for dancers; Ashton and Balanchine – alone – made the rehearsal room a happy place.
Where the connections between the two men happen thick and fast is between 1949 (when the Sadler’s Wells Ballet – later the Royal Ballet – opened at the Metropolitan Opera House) and 1970 (the end of Ashton’s regime as the Royal’s artistic director). But now let’s look at twelve pictures. They’re just gossipy illustrations:-
1 (no 6808). Lincoln Kirstein, handwritten diary for July 11, 1933, recording being introduced to Balanchine by Ashton. NYPL Jerome Robbins Dance Division. Photograph: Alastair Macaulay.
Top of page: “Finally Freddie Ashton and Diana Gould came in with George Balanchine…. He <Ashton> seemed agreeable if a little fancy. Balanchine was wholly charming and I had a long and wholly satisfactory talk with him…. How he wants to come to America – with 20 girls and 5 men, he could do wonders; particularly in the classical style, or in adaptation of it… How Americans have great potential in their feet – but they are often dead from the waist up. They must be made to love the music and love dancing. But they have spirit and could be touched off into fire.”18
2 (no 5547). Ninette de Valois, Sol Hurok, Margot Fonteyn, George Balanchine, Beryl Grey, after the Sadler’s Wells Ballet first night of Ballet Imperial but before the décor for Frederick Ashton’s Façade, Covent Garden, April 1950. Photographer Roger Wood.19
This photograph is from April 1950, after the first night of Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial (1941) with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet at Covent Garden. There were seventeen curtain calls; the wreath at Balanchine’s feet was given to him by the dancers. Fonteyn and Grey are in the Eugene Berman costumes; the production was new that night. Fonteyn had danced the ballerina role, Beryl Grey the soloist. It’s curious that Hurok is in the photograph; presumably he was in London to clinch negotiations for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet’s 1950-51 five-month tour of the United States. (Kirstein, though not in this photograph, was also in London, negotiating New York City Ballet’s first season at Covent Garden that July.20) And in the background is the décor for Ashton’s Façade, which presumably closed the evening. You can see (painted) bloomers blowing in the breeze.
3 (no 5078). George Balanchine and Margot Fonteyn, April 1950. She is in costume for Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial; behind them is dêcor for Ashton’s Façade. Photographer Roger Wood.21
This is from the same group of photographs: Fonteyn is still in her Berman tutu, the bloomers still blowing on the Façade décor. Balanchine looks in much higher spirits here. What’s odd is the uncharacteristic way he is clutching Fonteyn’s torso, tightly. My guess is that he’s referring to the Tango in Ashton’s Façade, where the gigolo Dago partners the giddy, silly Debutante: she’s so hopeless and naive that he has to pick her up like a parcel and turn her over. Balanchine had possibly seen Façade in the 1930s, and almost certainly in 1949.
4 (unnamed – 1). Photograph by Ray Shorr for Mademoiselle, 1952. Clockwise around piano from bottom right: Tanaquil Le Clercq, George Balanchine, Maria Tallchief, Melissa Hayden, Frederick Ashton, Diana Adams, Janet Reed, Jerome Robbins, Antony Tudor, Nora Kaye.
There aren’t many photographs that show Balanchine and Ashton together, but here22 is another: it’s famous. Taken in 1952, it catches a moment when New York City Ballet must have seemed the epicenter of choreographic modernism in ballet, from whichever angle you preferred: Balanchine, Ashton, Antony Tudor, and Jerome Robbins, with six of the great ballerinas who brought their works to peaks onstage.
Final tableau Frederick Ashton, Horoscope (1938). Photo J.W. Debenham23..
This pair of images (5 and 6) show two closing tableaus: in each case the other choreographer could never have dreamed of it.
This one is from Horoscope (1938), a long-lost Ashton ballet to a commissioned score by Constant Lambert. Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes are the young lovers lifted high at the center, and I love the way every inch of space beneath them is full and picturesque. That’s Pamela May lying on the floor at the center as the Moon; the two men on the extreme sides are the Gemini – Alan Carter and Richard Ellis.
Final tableau, Balanchine Symphony in Three Movements (1972). Photograph, 1983: Paul Kolnik.24.
This is from Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements, a ballet very much still in repertory both at New York City Ballet and around the world. It, too, is symmetrical, but those three-dimensional geometries and the sheer charged tension of the whole tableau are something Ashton could never have conceived. I love the way that it ends the ballet as if something new is about to begin: so many Balanchine ballets end with that sense – as if the curtain is not falling but rising.
7 (no 6241). Frederick Ashton rehearsing Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes for his Ondine (1958). Photographer: Roger Wood25.
Now (7 and 8) we have a pair of posed rehearsal photographs; they each show things the other choreographer would never have done. In this Ondine picture (7), you see Ashton’s fascination with line within line, here just for the upper bodies. The image is of both a lover’s knot and a heart: at first you can’t tell whose arm is which. It’s an image of perfect harmony.
8 (unnamed). George Balanchine rehearsing Diana Adams for Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1963) while Jacques d’Amboise observes. Photograph: Martha Swope26.
And this image shows the kind of breakaway, unconventional energy that Ashton could never have dreamed of. Nothing symmetrical or neat here: dynamism is bursting forth.
9 (no 5658) Ashton, Tiresias (1951), Margot Fonteyn as the female Tiresias with John Field as her Lover, Photograph Roger Wood: Houston Rogers27.
Now this (9 and 10) is a surprising pair of images. Ashton made a series of four Greek works in the years 1951-53; Tiresias is the second. Here’s Margot Fonteyn as the female Tiresias, on point, holding her own foot, with John Field kneeling as he supports her by the hand. Though she looks very cool, this was an intensely sexual pas de deux. Tiresias came to the New York Met in 1955: John Martin praised it in the “New York Times”28.
10 (no 5652): Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams (foreground) rehearse the Balanchine-Stravinsky Agon (1957), watched by (left to right) George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky, Lucia Davidova, Barbara Horgan, John Taras. Photograph: Martha Swope.
And here’s the same pose, though here the man is crouching rather than kneeling. This is Balanchine’s Greek-modernist ballet Agon; the pas de deux contains sex, among other things.
At last June’s Agon symposium, Arthur Mitchell said that Balanchine wanted Margot Fonteyn to dance Agon 29. That sounds absurd – but that Tiresias photo makes it less so.
11 (no 5542): Letter from George Balanchine to Mary Clarke, 26 February 1960, “Ballet Annual” (1960), part of “A Tribute to Frederick Ashton”.
Mary Clarke organized a tribute to Ashton in Ballet Annual 15, 1960. Balanchine’s letter, typed on School of American Ballet paper, is the only one she prints as a photographed illustration.
“February 26, 1960.
“Dear Miss Clarke,
“Thank you for your kind letter asking me to write a tribute to Frederick Ashton.
“Freddy is my friend and knows very well that my English is not so hot. I think he would be terribly surprised if I managed to write 500 words in it!
“I am sure he knows that I value his gifts and his achievements, and also how much I like him personally. I am certain that many beautiful things will be written about Freddy in the Ballet Annual with which I will agree, and I would like to be included among those who have joined in honoring him.
12. (no 5545) Left to right: Frederick Ashton, Suzanne Farrell, George Balanchine, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, party at Nancy Lassalle’s apartment. Photographer uncredited.
This photograph31 is from 1965, taken in Nancy Lassalle’s New York apartment. It shows five of the biggest celebrities in ballet. Fonteyn and Nureyev had opened the Royal’s season at the old Met in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Ashton was in his first New York season as the Royal’s artistic director, and Balanchine had just performed the title role of his own three-act Don Quixote with the still teenage Suzanne Farrell, his phenomenal latest muse.
It’s impressive to see that 1960 letter where Balanchine refers to “Freddy” as his friend. Things were not invariably sweet between them. There were frictions; they did not always admire each other’s work or each other’s manners. But that’s gossip, and it’s not of great importance. They both stated their admiration for each other on more than one occasion (Ashton more often and more emphatically): let’s assume they meant it, at least often enough.
If this were not an hour-long lecture but a two-year course, I’d spend a great deal of time on the connections between Balanchine and Ashton in their ballets. In the decades 1950-70, the pattern of their work shows them taking ideas from each other, thick and fast, on multiple levels
In March 1950, Ashton makes Illuminations for Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.
The company is preparing for its prestigious six-week Covent Garden season that summer and he’s admitted to planning meetings. Until now Balanchine’s Serenade has always been in dresses ending above the knee, but he advises that the company should open its London season with it and that it should be dressed in “flowing robes”32. <CUT ON MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY> (I think he was thinking of Balanchine’s Errante, which he had often seen in 1933. Kirstein had spotted a resemblance to Errante during Balanchine’s first Serenade rehearsals.33) <END OF CUT> They take his advice about costumes; “Serenade” has been in flowing dresses beneath the knee ever since. They don’t take his advice on opening the season with it, but it’s the only Balanchine work of the season that was hailed by the London critics.
In April 1950, Balanchine stages Ballet Imperial for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet at Covent Garden; he stays in Ashton’s house while he’s rehearsing it.34 Ashton loves Ballet Imperial and makes two overt borrowings from it, one the very next year in in his Daphnis and Chloë35, one ten years later in La Fille mal gardée36. Ballet Imperial remains in Covent Garden repertory for twenty-four years, and for some time the Royal Ballet is the only company dancing it in the world.
In July 1950, City Ballet plays Covent Garden for six weeks. Despite the critics (critics!) the London season, six weeks long, is a very big deal for the company (its first foreign season) and for audiences. Particularly in the cheap seats, people return again and again.37
In September 1950, Balanchine remains in England to create his own Trumpet Concerto on Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, with Svetlana Beriosova (not yet eighteen) as its ballerina.38 He must see that company in Ashton’s Valses nobles et sentimentales (1947), to Ravel music; it features several of the dancers he is using in his ballet. Only five months later (February 1951), he choreographs his own Valses nobles et sentimentales (as the first section of La Valse). Ashton uses a saut de basque in one waltz39; Balanchine ends the same waltz with a saut de basque40.
The Sadler’s Wells Ballet – soon the Royal Ballet – returns to the United States in autumn 1950, this time for five months, and for the next twenty-six years becomes New York’s and America’s favorite dance visitor, with seasons in New York and the States either every other year and each year through till 1976, often with seasons at the Met lasting six weeks and several later American tours also lasting five months. On both sides of the Atlantic, everyone agrees the Royal is at its best in New York.
In December 1950, Balanchine makes his Sylvia Pas de Deux, to music from Delibes’s three-act Sylvia. (Ashton is in America at the time.) Then in September 1952 Ashton makes his Sylvia, all three acts.
Perhaps the closest connection between the two men comes in 1951:-
In September 1951, Ashton makes his extended one-act suite of Nutcracker dances – with designs by Cecil Beaton.
Two months later, Balanchine makes his extended one-act suite of Swan Lake dances – with designs by, guess who, Cecil Beaton.
As for music, it’s amazing how often the two composers follow the other in quick succession. I’ve mentioned the Ravel and Delibes echoes. Oh did he use Glazounov this year? I’ll use Glazounov next year. (1955, 1956, 1959, 1961, 1962.) Aha, he used some Donizetti in his hit two-act ballet this year (January 1960)41; now I’ll make a one-act ballet to Donizetti’s actual ballet music (November 1960). Oh is he using Mendelssohn’s Midsummer music? I’ll use it in two years’ time (1962, 1964.)
In their old age, Balanchine uses Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits in January 1976 for Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins; Ashton uses it in February 1978 as a solo for Anthony Dowell. Balanchine choreographs Johann Strauss’s Voices of Spring Waltz and Explosions Polka in June 1977; Ashton choreographs them in December 1977.
This isn’t just two men sharing the same taste in composers: the timing shows that they are triggering each other off. More often it’s Balanchine who has the idea first, but absolutely not always (Ashton came first to Le Baiser de la fée, Valses nobles et sentimentales, Nutcracker, the Garland Dance in The Sleeping Beauty, Perséphone). I don’t think they always saw each other’s work, or needed to. Ashton in the 1970s, semi-retired, probably picked up a copy of the Dancing Times and saw Balanchine had just choreographed that Gluck dance, those Strauss dances; I bet that was enough to make him start wondering what he could do with the same music.
As for steps:
The divertissement pas de deux in Balanchine’s two-act Midsummer Night’s Dream (1962) is an all-time peak embodiment of harmonious love in serenity. Please note: it contains two Ashtonisms. In one, the ballerina, with the man standing behind her, garlands her own arm around her neck with him holding its hand over her shoulder. That doesn’t occur anywhere else in Balanchine, but it’s not uncommon in Ashton. In particular, it happens in the Balcony pas de deux of Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet (1955). If there’s one choreographer who may have seen Ashton’s Romeo more than Ashton, it’s Balanchine; it’s made for the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, and he is marooned in Copenhagen in the winter of 1956-57 looking after his wife Tanaquil Le Clercq after she’s afflicted by polio. The other42 is a diagonal of bourrées. Usually Balanchine’s bourrées are a straightforward chain – but Ashton was very fond of alternating the front foot (left bourreé, right bourrée, and so on). Film shows that he had used this kind of bourrée in Picnic at Tintagel, his 1952 creation for New York City Ballet. Now Balanchine employs it in Midsummer, a style of bourrées otherwise uncharacteristic of him.
This goes two ways. Ashton then choreographed his version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as The Dream (1964). His fairy corps dance features the main motif from Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco (1941). Hop, hop, hop in fifth position on point (arms en couronne); then (arms opening) transfer of weight into tendu side. The Barocco women do three hops; the Dream fairies do two. I think Ashton’s saying “Hello, George!”
And I think Balanchine replies “Hello, Freddy!” In Ashton’s Dream, Lysander promenades Hermia from behind so that her outstretched tendu foot traces a magic ring on the floor; Oberon and Titania then quote this in their Nocturne pas de deux in the same ballet. Where do we see this magic ring again? At the end of the first number in Balanchine’s Emeralds (1968), where the Violette Verdy ballerina, as she is turned, makes a magic ring on the floor.
<CUT ON MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY> That goes on up to 1979 and 1980. Ashton in 1976 made A Month in the Country, in which the climactic pas de deux ends with the heroine, Natalia Petrovna, standing with her head arched back, while her younger lover, Beliaev, has his head resting on her breast. In 1979, Balanchine ended a pas de deux for Patricia McBride and Rudolf Nureyev in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme with the very same pose.43
And in 1980 Balanchine makes Robert Schumann’s “Davidsbündlertänze”, a portrait of love and art in the life of the composer Schumann: the role of Clara Schumann as wife (created for Karin von Aroldingen) has certain features in common with that of Alice Elgar, the composer Elgar’s wife, in Ashton’s 1968 portrait of love and art in the life of the composer Elgar: in particular the motif of pas de chat (into a half-kneeling arrival) with port de bras opening into a sideways-descending gesture.44 The step is not new with Ashton (it is danced by one of the lead women in Les Sylphides) but the accentuation of the arms and the dramatic association with the composer’s loyal wife makes the parallel striking. <END OF CUT>
I could go on like this for weeks. But I don’t think it proves very much, except to those people who think Balanchine never borrowed from any other living ballet choreographer. Of course he did. Ashton probably borrowed much more often than he. Choreographers are magpies; Balanchine stole too.
What matters, however, is something much larger than that: these two, more than anyone else in the twentieth century, extended classicism in ballet.
What’s classicism in ballet? Dancing that pursues pure form, in which the human body, in terms of line, shape, and volume, becomes a sculptural work of ideal geometry, and connects to the structures of music: music’s rhythm, music’s melody, and music’s harmony, even its sonority. Dancing where we feel a constant tension between sculptural fixity and movement in time (stillness in motion, and motion in stillness). And so we see humanity touched by the sublime, and by a code of manners that turns human energy outward rather than to inward self-expression.45 Our notion of classicism is culturally specific: it’s different in ballet from the classicism of Odissi or Bharatanatyam or Javanese Bedhaya. Behind them all, however, is a religious or philosophical impulse.46
Ashton and Balanchine were more alike than they were unalike. They both worshipped the tradition of classicism they had inherited from Marius Petipa. In the 1960s, wags used to speak of a religious trinity: “Petipa the Father, Balanchine the Son, Ashton the Holy Ghost.” 47 Classical ballet is a mansion that contains many houses.
These two choreographers both loved Fokine’s Les Sylphides or Chopiniana, a ballet both of them supervised in their old age in the 1970s; they were both heavily influenced by Bronislava Nijinska – though Balanchine never admitted it whereas Ashton went out of his way to acknowledge his debt and to salvage her two greatest ballets when they were moving into oblivion. They both loved the Platonic world of forms that classical ballet could open up, and they regarded it as the great river into which all other streams could be tributaries. They both adored Fred Astaire and Jessie Matthews and quoted them in their choreography: Balanchine referred to Astaire in Who Cares? (and other ballets48) and to Jessie Matthews in Serenade, Ashton to Astaire in Cinderella and to Jessie Matthews in Façade49.
The first time I interviewed Ashton50, in 1980, I knew that he liked to tell how, when people found him watching The Sleeping Beauty even though he had seen and performed in it hundreds of times, he had said “I’m having a private lesson.” I wanted him to tell me that story himself – so I asked “Do you derive inspiration from the classics?”
Instead he gave me a far more interesting answer: “I derive inspiration from classicism.” So much larger than the answer I’d been looking for. Over the next thirty-eight years I’ve gone on trying to think about what it implied.
I’m sure Balanchine would have wanted to say the same. Their careers show that they thought not just about ballet classicism but about Greek classicism and modern classicism, classicism in the era of skyscrapers and men walking in space.
I’m going to show you excerpts from four ballets made over forty years;
four ballets that I think show you what I mean by pure classicism in their work, in more or less chronological order.
Balanchine’s Apollo (1928)
Ashton’s Symphonic Variations (1946)
And then, in alternation, dances from Balanchine’s Agon (1957) and Ashton’s Monotones (1965 and 1966).
And my first point is simply to show that classicism evolves. That’s what Diaghilev said in the late 1920s: “Classicism evolves. Skyscrapers have a classicism of their own, they are the palaces of our time.”51
And just at that time, when he saw a rehearsal of Apollo, Diaghilev turned to a mutual friend, the composer Nicolas Nabokov, and said, about Balanchine, “What he is doing is magnificent. This is classicism, such as we have not seen since Petipa.”52
FIRST GROUP OF FILMS
1966 film of Apollo MGZIFD 5026
From Apollo picking up lute to the end of the first quartet
Stravinsky conducting, 1966: Jacques d’Amboise, Suzanne Farrell, Gloria Govrin. Patricia Neary.
For me, this is the greatest of the many films of Balanchine’s Apollo, despite its being filmed in a studio the size of a shoebox. Stravinsky is conducting; he makes the score incomparably incisive. And d’Amboise, though he’d been dancing the role for nine years, plays everything as if it’s happening for the first time; so do his muses.
In this quartet, you see classicism coming into being. This god and these muses are still learning their crafts, but the sculptural shapes and images, the developing musical phrases, all keep showing how these characters are imbued with the divine. And the images include that of a pool and central fountain, of a horizontal row of mutual support, of winding patterns (they used to say about Balanchine “When in doubt, Wind in and out”) that continually show changing harmonies and intricate geometries, all in a state of flux.
- two sections from 1973 film of Symphonic Variations MGZIDF 1956
Antoinette Sibley, Anthony Dowell, Ann Jenner, Jennifer Penney, Michael Coleman, Gary Sherwood
(a) This ballet’s early quartet for the three women and the central man – evidently inspired by Apollo – develops the sculptural and spatial potential of ballet. The ballet, which Ashton made with the idea of the seasons in mind, has begun implicitly with winter in which only the women move. The arrival here of the central man brings the first signs of spring, but the mood stays cool. The severe lines with which the women’s arms often cross the central line of the body (croisé) often correspond to harmonic tensions in the music. Generally the choreography’s plenitude of linear qualities shows Ashton’s endless felicity with line.
(b) This later sextet, very much from the ballet’s summer section, often shows the central couple often as the work’s still or quiet center, with the peripheral dancers often doing more. Stillness, motionlessness, repose, a sustained arabesque line amid the surrounding change: these qualities are central to Symphonic Variations and its philosophical implications.
- 1982 New York City Ballet live performance of the second pas de trois from Agon MGZIDF 8990 – just the intrada trio before the two men’s duet; Stravinsky Festival, Maria Calegari and two men (54 secs)
Among other things, this dense, rapid trio shows you a supported adagio as a high-wire act. Danger and risk are strongly evident in the air. One meaning of the word “agon” is competition. Go-for-broke energy without containment is unmistakable here. The woman has the control to keep holding balances amid the movement, but her balances are nothing like the stillnesses of Symphonic Variations: they’re moments of suspense, in which on going movement is implicit or even evident.
- 1968 studio TV film of Monotones MGZIDF 5-5626
Vyvyan Lorrayne, Anthony Dowell, Robert Mead.
(a) The first excerpt shows Ashton speaking of Satie and the title Trois Gymnopédies: “It’s like a Greek competition – I didn’t want that”.
Like hell he didn’t! He has Agon on his mind, even when in some ways he does the opposite.
(b) Ashton speaks of his rehearsing a new ballet; the camera then shows him rehearsing the three original-cast dancers in the opening of the first Gymnopédie.
Here’s supported adagio again as a high-wire act, but serene. For the opening image, Ashton told the dancers he’d been dreaming of “a chicken on a spit” – but you see how he turns that into poetry. He tells the men “Pluck at her like a harp”: the idea of making music, and the arcs of their arms, are an echo of Apollo.
- 1982 film of Agon, live performance, New York City Ballet MGZIDF 8990
Streaming video Agon <and> Tango <and> Élégie <and> Variations for orchestra
1982 New York City Ballet: Intrada dance sof first pas de trois (50 secs)
Daniel Duell as male soloist.
This is the reverse format: two women one man, also dense, also rapid. You see the three dancers’ huge stretches into the beyond, and the way that symmetry occurs but always with sustained tension.
Same 1968 studio film of Monotones MGZIDF 5-5626: two excerpts.
Georgina Parkinson, Antoinette Sibley, Michael Coleman.
(a)Ashton in rehearsal with the dancers.
Here Ashton rehearses the first Gnossienne from his 1966 pas de trois. You see the dancers looking into the distance: their gestures into the beyond suggest Agon – but the gesture of shielding the eyes also suggests the opening image of Serenade, here made multi-dimensional, with the three dancers each facing in a different direction.
(b) The entire Third Gnossienne.
I complimented Ashton in 1980 on how well his choreography connected to the larger Royal Ballet repertory; he said “That’s what Karsavina said to me: ‘You are a link in the chain’.”53 This third Gnossienne is his ultimate link-in-the-chain choreography. Look and you’ll see fleeting quotations from Fokine’s Les Sylphides, Merce Cunningham, Bronislava Nijinska, Balanchine’s Apollo, Serenade, and Agon. But everything connects: no choreography is more seamless: we feel line in both spatial and temporal senses, to the nth degree.
To end this series:
MGZIDF 5023, Balanchine’s voiceover at the end of a documentary of New York City Ballet at the New York State Theater:-
Balanchine here is heard to say (over silent footage from his choreography and of him with his dancers), “I believe in the moment. I believe in that moment. I believe what I see. I choose my friends to work with, because I enjoy to look at this particular people. I don’t care about…. To me, the importance of the dance is the person, actually in front of your eyes. You see, that’s what I think, and lots of people disagree with me. They all want to preserve, you see, and I disagree with them, you see, I don’t want to preserve. I’m very selfish, you see. I’m having it now: I’m having it and eating it, my own cake.”
I love this central dilemma that Balanchine addresses here. The whole of classical art suggests endurance, tradition, survival, but he – and Ashton too – knew how fragile classicism in dance has always been. What matters is now.
11.To connect to that, I wish I could play you Ashton’s voice in our longest formal interview in 198454. It was a year after Balanchine had died. “How are things over there?” Ashton asked me. I remarked how extraordinary it had been to have a whole ballet company shaped by one man’s vision throughout its repertory.
Ashton replied “That’s how it’s got to be, that’s how it’s got to be. When I directed the Royal Ballet, I didn’t just look after my own ballets – I took those (corps) girls down the ramp in Bayadère, I discussed style with the other new choreographers.”
It was the most passionate I ever heard him.
Looking at the four ballets in these films, I’m sure you can see Ashton is the more conservative of the two. In each case it’s Balanchine making the radical advance, reinventing the Greek idea in terms of advanced modernism, to new Stravinsky music. And it’s Ashton who spots what Balanchine’s doing and makes a response, more conservative and more contained, but also on a supreme level, and saying different things about pure form.
Above all, Balanchine is busting away from classical politeness into breakaway energy; Ashton is showing the virtues of statuesque stillness and repose, of the still center. And yet it is also Ashton in Monotones who suggests men walking in unlimited space (in Gymnopédies, men walking in outer space)55.
Generally we can say that one obvious distinction of style between the two men is to do with the challenges they make to the dancer’s equilibrium:
Balanchine takes dancing off balance, taking the dancer out into space by stepping out below the pelvis;
Ashton makes the dancer move off balance but above the waist (dancers said his middle name was “Bend”; Margot Fonteyn observed that if she bent as far as she could, it wasn’t enough for Ashton, and if she bent over as far as he did, she fell over56).
One of the ways in which classical ballet evolved in the twentieth century dance was that it worked with better music. The dominant ballet composers of the nineteenth century had been Pugni and Minkus: rum-ti-tum, nineteenth-century honkytonk. We’re grateful that the ballet music of Delibes and Tchaikovsky came along, but it was only at the end of the century that people began to absorb their greatness. Ashton and Balanchine made ballets to Delibes, Tchaikovsky, Glazounov; they also made ballets to Ravel, Stravinsky, and later composers.
But another of the achievements of dance modernism, starting with Isadora Duncan and Mikhail Fokine, is that choreography began to address the great works of the concert-hall repertory. Even if non-ballet people began it, this breakthrough transformed ballet. By making dances to Bach, Haydn, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Satie, and many more, the twentieth century masters enlarged classicism by opening up its resemblance to music.
Last year’s Lincoln Kirstein lecture was given by the singer Ian Bostridge. He spoke of two opposite historical impulses in music: the impulse to support and illustrate words, and the impulse to support dance. Although he applied this to Schubert and Schumann lieder, he particularly addressed the music of Benjamin Britten, with which he’s justifiably obsessed. I knew that he’s written in the Times Literary Supplement to argue that Britten should be recognized as Stravinsky’s equal.57
I wanted to point out that Ashton had choreographed five Britten scores. Bostridge concentrated ultimately on Britten’s final opera Death in Venice (1973), in which he plays the highly verbal hero Aschenbach while the non-verbal beloved boy Tadzio was played by a dancer. Well, it was Ashton who choreographed the original production; and though his dances always had beauties, it wasn’t until after Britten’s death that Ashton’s dances came into their own. Even though ballet tends to be a heterosexual art, Ashton here showed how it can express homosexual desire too: the final image of the opera is an apotheosis in which the dying Aschenbach, on one side of the stage, sees the muse-like Tadzio, on the other, melting through one slow arabesque after another, beckoning him into the beyond.
Bostridge also spoke of Britten’s great song-cycle Les Illuminations. Rightly, Bostridge praised it as a miraculous setting of words. I would say that Britten far surpasses Stravinsky in this aspect of music; I think Les Illuminations may be as great a musical setting of great poetry as any ever written – and it follows the words sometimes into rhythmic dance sequences, sometimes into flights when words have no regular meter. As Bostridge knew, Britten completed this score in America in 1940; it had its first performance here.
What Bostridge may not have known is that in 1950 Ashton choreographed it, in America, in a collaboration with Lincoln Kirstein: Ashton’s first creation for New York City Ballet. <CUT ON MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY> (I don’t want to overpraise Ashton’s work to Britten’s music, though he did stage five Britten scores. I actually suspect he preferred Stravinsky as a person and as a composer. He didn’t say that Stravinsky was better, but that he was more dance-friendly; he spoke a little acidly to me of how Britten was less interested in composing for ballet than for the voice of Peter Pears58. But he had the range for both composers.) <END OF CUT>
SECOND GROUP OF FILMS
To show off the resources of the Library, but also to show you the frustrations of dance history, I’m showing here silent film fragments of the two ballets Ashton made for City Ballet, Illuminations and Picnic at Tintagel, with some of their original casts.
Five minutes of silent Ann Barzel footage of Illuminations (5mins, near end of MGZIC 9-3600), 1951 Chicago performance. Cast includes Melissa Hayden (Profane Love) and Robert Barnett (Drummer) from the original 1950 cast; also Hugh Laing (the Poet) and – probably – Jillana (Sacred Love).
Illuminations has been danced now by the Joffrey Ballet, Royal Ballet, and – just last December – Sarasota Ballet. But how remarkable to see these fragments of the original production.
You see a glimpse here of the start of the “Antique” pas de trois for the Poet, standing between the two muses: Sacred Love and Profane Love. They’re all miming musical instruments: the two women playing unseen lyres, he an invisible flute. This is a pre-echo of the pas de trois in Balanchine’s Chaconne, which joined City Ballet repertory (1976) at almost the very moment that Illuminations left it; the difference is that it’s the man in Chaconne who strums an unseen lute; but the spacing of the trio across the stage is the same. (This idea may not have begun life with Ashton. He in turn may have been quoting from Balanchine’s 1932 Cotillon, another long-lost ballet; I have an idea that that included another of these musical trios.)
The “Antique” trio then moves in different directions. It shows that Tannhäuser-like drama for the protagonist, torn between one heroine, Profane, who shows the lure of the flesh, the other, Sacred, showing the inspiration of the soul.
Kirstein took no official credit for Illuminations, but he collaborated closely with Ashton and Beaton in planning the work59. The film shows the intensely sexual grapplings of the Poet with Profane Love: which are dramatic but not poetic. You see how Hayden as Profane Love loses a sleeve during their sex scene: that’s deliberate. The Poet picks it up, wipes himself off with it, and then relieves himself at an onstage pissoir: stage behavior beyond anything Ashton had attempted in London and for which the London critics rebuked him in July 1950. The prose bluntness of this sexual behavior is the point; the Poet turns from “this expense of spirit in a waste of shame” to the real dance poetry in his visions of Sacred Love.
In one scene here, to Rimbaud’s “Royauté”, Sacred Love is seen as a queen, married to a king, in a royal procession. The Poet can’t bear to see this; he smashes up this vision and tears the crown off the king’s head. (You can imagine how that went down when City Ballet brought Illuminations to Covent Garden in July 1950. Kirstein records how the Duchess of Kent, Princess Marina, snubbed Ashton at the company’s royal gala.60)
With the crown on his chest, the Poet then lies at the front of the stage and envisions the ballet’s most poetic sequence of all “Being Beauteous,” an adagio for Sacred Love and four men. This pas de cinq anticipates some of Balanchine’s forays into the same terrain, notably in Rubies. One of Ashton’s original four men was the first African American member of New York City Ballet, Arthur Bell; he was bare-chested. The original Sacred ballerina was Tanaquil Le Clercq. Thus the first pronounced piece of black/white partnering in the City Ballet repertory was choreographed by Ashton.
<CUT ON MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY> The Britten music, as I’ve said, sets Rimbaud poems. Ashton seldom follows the words literally. Even the clause “Et je danse” (“And I dance”) becomes not a dance but a gesture, with the Poet suddenly throwing stardust into the air and letting it fall. The eruption of the stardust into the air can be seen as a metaphorical ejaculation – but what’s memorable is how the eye-catching fall of the glittering stardust through the air perfectly catches the descent of the singer’s voice in a spectacular portamento on the long first vowel of “danse”. 61 <END OF CUT>
Two minutes of silent Ann Barzel footage of Picnic at Tintagel MGZHB 4-630 2/15-4.18
You see here Diana Adams doing those alternating bourrées I mentioned earlier. It’s a wonderful way to show off a ballerina’s feet and legs.
Jacques d’Amboise had not yet created any role for Balanchine; he was all of seventeen.
Ashton made them both look sensational; and d’Amboise always looked up Ashton whenever he visited London. Balanchine, however, had not behaved well when Ashton rehearsed Le Clercq in Illuminations – and now, jealous and possessive, he made life impossible when Ashton rehearsed Adams. He would look through the keyhole, d’Amboise remembers, and he would send Eddie Bigelow in to interrupt rehearsals for no reason. Finally Ashton had to go to Balanchine and explode: “If you came to Covent Garden – when you did come to Covent Garden – we gave you the best conditions we good, the best room and times for rehearsal and all the dancers you chose. Now you’re refusing to do the same for me.” Balanchine was chastened.62 <CUT ON MONDAY It’s probably for this reason that Ashton never worked with City Ballet again, although it had at one point announced that Tintagel would be one of two forthcoming creations by him for the company.<END OF CUT>
The ballet had a five-minute pas de deux for Adams and d’Amboise that d’Amboise still remembers as beautiful. But he also says that Balanchine kept chipping away at it by changing casts in it and undercasting it until it soon faded from repertory.
But the film fragments tell you very little. That’s dance history for you. You track down evidence, and most of it tells you less than you’d like. Even so, how astonishing to watch even this record of a ballet that fell out of repertory in the year I was born.
About craft. Most of you will know about Balanchine’s compositional mastery: we could spend a week looking at him as the master of stage arithmetic, another week as the master of geometry, another week examining his mastery of entrances, and another week his mastery of exits, and months analyzing the time structure of his ballet, and years on his musicality.
Ashton always knew he had craft, too; Balanchine agreed, which is what he meant when he said “Mr Ashton and I never make incompetent ballets”.
In 1939, when Ashton worked with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo for the first and only time (thanks to the outbreak of war, this was a ballet he never saw in performance), choreographing for Alexandra Danilova and other stars, he made a forty-five-minute ballet in two weeks; as he finished, the dancers all burst into applause.63 A little old man used to watch rehearsals and offer Ashton little cakes; finally one day he said to Ashton “Monsieur, je vous admire beaucoup, votre chorégraphie se déroule comme une chaîne.” Ashton went to the dancers and said “Who’s that perfectly sweet little man?” They replied “Oh, didn’t you know? That’s Matisse. He’s here designing a ballet for Massine.” When he told me this story in 1984, Ashton used a famous gesture of his, putting his fists to his temples to indicate wracking them for inspiration, as he told the dancers, “Oh, if I’d known, I wouldn’t have been able to compose a thing.”64
His favourite of his own ballets was Scènes de ballet, which he made in 1948 to a Stravinsky score new only four years before. His American lover, the dancer Dick Beard (who told me this) had been praising Balanchine’s use of asymmetry in choreography.53 Ashton, never previously interested in geometry as a formal academic subject, found himself buying a book of Euclid. Tackling this Stravinsky score, he drove the corps de ballet happily nuts as he worked his way through Euclidean theorems, and at the end of sections would exclaim “Q.E.D.!” 65
Actually, most Balanchine choreography is frontally organised, and often highly symmetrical. In parts of Scènes66, however, Ashton deliberately organised dancers in space to face multiple directions, so that the ballet would be equally satisfying for someone seated in the wings on the right or the wings on the left or at the back of the stage. And generally, especially from this period on, Ashton’s choreography is often more multi-directional than Balanchine’s.
Ashton also adored the complexity and polyrhythms of Stravinsky’s score. This was the ballet he was proudest of having made. Edwin Denby, writing in the year of its premiere, thought immediately that this was Ashton’s finest ballet.67 Probably the greatest compliment was that this was one Stravinsky score Balanchine never choreographed himself, even though Stravinsky urged him to during the 1950s. (Stravinsky himself liked Ashton and would occasionally dine with him. In 1955, Ashton was in Copenhagen, making his three-act “Romeo and Juliet” for the Royal Danish Ballet but being ignored by the then insular Danish press. One day he spotted Stravinsky in the foyer and said “What are you doing here?” Stravinsky said “Going to have dinner with you!” Only then did the Danish press now gave Ashton the kind of attention it should have bestowed on him before.68)
Around 1984, I was watching an Ashton triple bill from the old Dancing Times press seats at one side of the Grand Tier at Covent Garden; my companion was David Vaughan, whose definitive Ashton book had come out some seven years before. Ashton himself, aged at least seventy-nine, was sitting on the other side of the Grand Tier, with his companion Tony Dyson (now a linchpin of the Ashton Foundation). David remarked to me that he would wait till after Scènes, the second ballet of the matinee programme, to pay his respects to Ashton (“I know he particularly likes to be complimented on that”). It was a particularly good Scènes that afternoon, and I found myself saying to David through the applause “That ballet’s so rich, you need to see it twice in quick succession – once for the steps, once for the structure.” David said “That’s very good – I’ll tell it to Fred.” For some reason I was late in joining them, and anyway, at age twenty-nine, I didn’t like to force myself on Ashton, even though he liked young people. So as I arrived – Ashton was already propping up the old Crush Bar, vodka beside him – I could hear David saying “Alastair was just saying….” As I listened to my words about steps and structure, I thought “Well, that’s a big compliment – I wonder how Ashton will take it.” But the words were no sooner out of David’s mouth than Ashton happily exclaimed “And the rhythms, and the rhythms!” (He slapped the bar on the word “rhythms” each time.) “Sometimes there are many as four or five of them going on at the same time. I don’t know how I did it!” I remember laughing happily.
Well, Scènes is indeed so rich a ballet that, during London years, I tried never to miss a performance, and would often watch it from the cheap seats upstairs even when I was the “FT” chief theatre critic. At least twenty years after that conversation, and some sixteen or more years after Ashton’s death, I suddenly noticed the particular moment Ashton had in mind. The two leading dancers are offstage, but the four male coryphées are moving in one rhythm, while the corps of twelve women is moving in three separate rhythms around the stage – whereupon one woman breaks away from them in a fifth rhythm. The rhythms each have their own separate vocabularies, too. Of course I remembered that conversation by the old Crush Bar (which no longer exists); I laughed and marvelled at the same time – it had taken me twenty years to spot that moment.
<CUT ON MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY> Let me quickly rattle through a few further features of style. They both worked with a fully turned-out body, as you’ve seen in Symphonic Variations and Monotones; but Ashton’s style, largely based on the Cecchetti system, paid greater emphasis to épaulement. One dance writer recently wrote that, whereas Balanchine style turned out the whole body from its central axis, the Cecchetti system arranged the body “in stacks”, its different sections vertically arranged69\ – but this is a complete misunderstanding of Cecchetti. As Cecchetti teachers on both sides of the Atlantic have confirmed to me70, that style truly turns the whole body out from the centre, upper and lower, although without Balanchine’s point that the body’s two halves are left and right. Cecchetti develops elaborate alignment of the whole body: Ashton felt that all dancers should do the Cecchetti grand ports de bras every day because of the wonderful feeling for line they produced71. Line, as you’ll have seen from these films and photographs, was central to Ashton’s poetry; so is épaulement. I have no hesitation in saying that Ashton is the greatest choreographer of épaulement in ballet, and he uses two kinds: conventional èpaulement, which uses shoulder, neck, and head in counterbalance around the central axis of the spine, and a Nijinska-like épaulement, which moves from deeper in the waist. Balanchine could use both too (the Siren in Prodigal Son has a very Nijinska-épaulé strut across the stage), but generally as less primary effects. In the 1930s, Ashton had to fight for épaulement: the dancer Julia Farron, later a noted teacher, has said that in those days “Everything we knew about épaulement we learnt from Fred”, whereas Ninette de Valois’s teaching (which in later decades made much more of épaulement) “was entirely below the hip – really, all below the knee.”72
A second basic difference between the two styles is that Balanchine’s dancers travel calmly off balance over the brink into space, whereas Ashton’s are more accomplished at unsupported adagio. A third was observed by Robert Greskovic in the 1970s73: he wrote that Balanchine showed a preference for effacé, opening the body out to the audience from its central axis, whereas Ashton showed a preference for croisé, with one or more limbs crossing that central axis. I’ve also mentioned a fourth: Ashton’s greater use of multi-directionality; the Cecchetti style equipped dancers for rapid changes of direction and rapid changes.
And here’s a fifth. As Edwin Denby noticed in the 1940s74 and Arlene Croce in 197075, Balanchine opens up the body’s natural impetus, so that a dancer acquires a wonderfully direct look. Ashton, by contrast, loves to make dancers multi-task: the bending of the torso, the lavish use of épaulement, the intricate ports de bras, the brilliant footwork often operate like self-contradictions, making the body look beautifully complex, naturally combining multiple impulses at the same time – often with no loss of innocence. <END OF CUT>
In terms of musicality, despite what I’ve said about the astonishing polyrhythms in Scènes de ballet, I’d say that Balanchine was yet the greater master of rhythm.76 And I’d say that Ashton has the greater sense of melody. As for musical harmony, both men respond to it in remarkable ways, but Balanchine tends to show changes of harmony by remarkable structural tensions across the group, whereas Ashton shows it within the individual dancer’s body: often those croisé lines I’ve mentioned correspond to musical dissonance or tension.
Yet all generalisations are perilous. I can show you dances where Balanchine seems never to be addressing the front (this is especially striking in Robert Schumann’s“Davidsbündertänze”) and many dances where Ashton and Balanchine alternate croisé and efface to terrific effect – they knew that dancing exists more in contrasts rather than in fixed academic rules.
Let’s just look now at two dances that each made to the same music:-
THIRD GROUP OF FILMS
Here are five excerpts from Delibes’s Sylvia, showing Balanchine and Ashton responding to the two same items of music:
The violin adagio of Balanchine’s Sylvia pas de deux (1950) – Allegra Kent and Jacques d’Amboise:-
You see how Balanchine shows both the music’s melodic line and its suddenly fast rhythms and dynamic contrasts, bringing them off without making them break the overall mood; and you see how he opens out the body for maximum exposure (the flower in the sunlight). The dance begins with a striking example of Balanchinean supported adagio, with Kent sustaining her balance on point while changing arms on the music’s rhythm: her whole body glows. Balanchine plays with the musical phrase, with d’Amboise already lifting Kent across the stage serenely before the violin repeats that first melodic line and then connecting this sequence of lifts and partnered adagio to the music beautifully. When the music changes tempo, so does the dance – entrechat lifts, hopping arabesques voyagées – but with no break in the overall mood. Then, when the whole strings take up the melody, Kent becomes more spectacular, spinning across the stage towards d’Amboise and taking unsupported double pirouettes before he catches her; when the melody returns to the supported violin, the speed with which she turns, opens, turn, opens in d’Amboise’s arms is amazingly fluent.
This was choreographed for Maria Tallchief, the company’s virtuoso prima; you can see her dance it in the Library upstairs. But I wanted to show you Allegra Kent because the colour film and the better sound quality give us a ravishing view of a very beautiful ballerina in full bloom.
The adagio of Act Three of Ashton’s three-act Sylvia danced by Darcey Bussell and Roberto Bolle MGZIDVD 5-4435
And here’s Ashton’s response to the same music. He begins with an astonishing effect: the ballerina enters in a high lift and stays there in a slow diagonal as her partner, Aminta, crosses the stage. This catches several layers of the music: the height of that lift matches the wonderful way the violin enters on a high note and remains high, taking us by surprise in context of the score so far; and the way the man walks – step, pause; step, pause; step, pause – catches the wonderful iambic rhythm of the melody. Straightaway it’s a breathtaking effect: a moment out of time. When she reaches the floor, she immediately shows the full range of dynamic contrasts in footwork and turns; there’s one amazing sudden effect when she tips sideways, with her back to us, at the end of a phrase – we hadn’t seen it coming, but it catches something momentary in the music.
And when the full strings reprise that opening melody, Ashton has the resources to match this new flood of expansiveness: the ballerina runs across the stage, twice, to hurl herself into a “fish” upside-down catch, the second time remaining there longer as if aglow. (Balanchine’s Sylvia Pas de Deux had fish lifts too, but musically less effective.) And then one of the most beautifully Ashtonian effects of all: Aminta, standing behind Sylvia as she takes an arabesque leaning on her chest, places the flats of his hands on either sides of her head and gently draws her head back towards him; as he does so, she – matching a moment of bliss in the music – brings her hands up to frame his, and then opens them ecstatically to either side.
24 seconds approx. of Margot Fonteyn in a 1954 live performance filmed in Chicago, by Ann Barzel.
Like several others this evening, this film has never been seen in England: it’s silent, but it’s in colour. Just two fragments, but it shows two of those key moments with Ashton’s original Sylvia and Aminta, Margot Fonteyn (at this stage the most celebrated ballerina in the world) and Michael Somes: the amazing abandon with which she hurls herself across the stage into that “fish” catch in his arms, and the wonderfully sensuous rapture with which she leans back against him as her hands and arms trace how he has pulled her head back to his chest.
The pizzicato solo from Balanchine’s Sylvia pas de deux (1950), danced by Allegra Kent YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm26I6eNBxo
Here’s Kent again, in this pizzicato solo (musically famous in its own right). You see how much pointwork Balanchine uses here: it catches the piquancy of these pizzicati. In the opening phrase, the legs continually opens up and out to give maximum exposure to the whole body (again, the flower opens to the light). In one accelerating phrase, Kent hops on both points around and around. There’s a manège of piqué chaîné turns where she stays on point while spinning around the stage, and finally a hopping diagonal of ballonné hops, punctuated by occasional arabesques, the body opening to the light both forward and backward.
The pizzicato solo from Act Three of Ashton’s Sylvia, with Marianela Nuñez https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z15Hun5ash0
Nuñez takes a slower tempo than Kent. I think we can be sure that Margot Fonteyn didn’t: she used to bet her conductor a magnum of champagne that he couldn’t finish the solo before she did77. And her original conductor was Robert Irving, who made a wonderful LP recording of Sylvia: he went on to conduct for Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Ashton also makes a great use of pointwork here; the pizzicati surely call for that. (The next time you hear someone say Margot Fonteyn had weak feet, just shoot them before they do further damage to the world.) What’s striking is that Ashton finds a wider variety of things to do than Balanchine. I love the way that one phrase of hops on one point takes her in a slow circle; Ashton makes more wit out of the way the music seems to have stopped before it does stop, and there’s terrific exhilaration in the final series of accelerating sous-sus in a horizontal line across the stage. Most gorgeous of all is a diagonal phrase (Nuñez is especially wonderful here) where the choreography alternates between showing upper- and lower-body ecstasy: the arms make a halo that opens in wonder, and then the feet flourish in the air in a gargouillade – the halo/gargouillade alternation becomes an expression of profound bliss.
We turn to expression. What were these two men saying?
Ballet is, overall, a heterosexual art, a heterosexual man’s view of women. However many gay men there may be around it, it focuses on men partnering women and on women looking glorious in those conditions. Balanchine certainly qualified as heterosexual, yet Ashton was principally homosexual. What differences do we see between their work and do we ascribe these to sexuality?
If there’s one particular compositional feature that sets Balanchine apart, it’s his exceptional use of supported adagio. To be specific – the term “supported adagio” can cover a multitude of sins – I mean a very exposed kind, of which Petipa had been a master in the late nineteenth-century, often with few or no lifts: where the man proffers his hand to support the ballerina’s hand while the woman, on point and distanced from him by the length of her arm as well as his, extends her body through the maximum of space, sometimes promenaded or turned by him. Balanchine loved to give his women this kind of grand display. The pressure on that one point of hers so often looks heroic, and the way she commands space and time, with the man’s support, is intensely dramatic. This is ballet at its most sexist – the gender roles may not be reversed – but it’s a sexism that privileges the female, and you have to be hard of heart not to feel its thrill. Balanchine often surrounds it with the full structure of a ballet company, so that we see the corps de ballet responding orchestrally to the ballerina’s lead.
<CUT ON MONDAY> Almost every choreographer since Balanchine has fought shy of this heroic kind of supported adagio. Curiously, the two others who have made phenomenal use of it are Ashton (the final scene of Cinderella has a juicy example) and Merce Cunningham (without pointwork, but still using the joined hands, the straightened leg, the grand développé, and so forth – in, for example, some of the duets in Channels/Inserts and August Pace).78 Nonetheless, for those two men, supported adagio was less crucial to what they had to say: during a pas de deux, they would often turn from that presentation of a woman to something quite opposite, by way of diversity. For Balanchine, a ballerina’s authority and mystery could be expressed in many ways without needing to contradict it. <END OF CUT>
Ashton, as Monotones shows, moved towards a much greater parity of the sexes: what, in terms of Sixties fashion, used to be called unisex. And in The Dream’s Nocturne pas de deux he has an extraordinary sequence where Oberon and Titania do supported adagio together, holding hands to make a central diamond shape between them while they both incline downward, mirroring each other, in penchée arabesque. This use of penchée on a man was unprecedented in important choreography: it’s a breakthrough in ballet masculinity.
Generally Balanchine is or seems the more modern. His women are independent, grand, assertive, powerful, elusive. But Ashton not only gave more equality to man and woman, he did far more to show the woman as a rapturously sexual being.
That ballet Tiresias took up such a remarkable subject for a ballet, from a Greek myth: which sex derives greater bliss from sex? The answer is woman; and I believe this myth goes to one of the deepest roots of misogyny – men’s fear or envy of the woman’s greater erotic response in sex, and the power of the sexualized woman.
How curious that the homosexual Ashton addressed this! Admittedly, this was a ballet he conceived with the heartily heterosexual Constant Lambert. They both had Margot Fonteyn in mind as the female Tiresias; Lambert had had a long affair with her, confiding to Ashton what she was like in bed (the word was “pagan”; the details were striking)79. Lambert died, six weeks after the ballet’s premiere; Fonteyn danced it with ever greater intensity in his memory. When she became engaged in 1953, her future husband stopped her dancing it any more; he didn’t want the public to know what she was like alone with him. Ashton gave the role to Violetta Elvin. Guess what? She re-married in 1955, and her new husband forbad her ever to dance Tiresias again for the same reason. Ashton took it out of repertory.80
But that’s just gossip. What matters is that Lambert and Ashton felt this Tiresias point applied to female sexuality in general. And it illustrates a pattern across Ashton’s choreography from the late 1940s up to the 1980s: in his ballets, it’s the woman who shows the frissons and ecstasy of sexuality – sometimes the moment of orgasm. (The pas de deux for Oberon and Titania in The Dream is just the best-known example.) <CUT ON MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY> The way a woman responds to her lover’s mere’s touch shows Ashton’s feeling for the woman’s erogenous zones: there’s an enchanting example in La Fille mal gardée, where Lise has been crying in embarrassment and Colas reassures her with a series of kisses up her arm from hand to neck: she at once rises on point and bourrées on the spot, gloriously responsive. <END OF CUT>
I became curious about this near the end of his life. Since Julie Kavanagh was working on his biography, I used to write her postcards with questions for her to ask him – I thought she was better placed to inquire, and I hoped the answers would help her book. She did indeed then ask him about this aspect of the eroticised woman. He replied. “Yes, I was always the woman, you see.”
Balanchine would never have said that.
And yet, in a different way, he could have. Maria Tallchief, his third wife, always said “I could never have danced the Swan Queen as beautifully as George.” 81
That may sound funny – but it leads us to a larger point. Psychoanalysts say “You are all the characters in your dream”; and with ballets we can see that the choreographer is the characters of both genders in his or her ballets. Ashton and Balanchine both realized the feminine sides of themselves. Balanchine’s many elusive, aloof, inspiring women were, of course, visions of himself; Ashton’s many vulnerable, eroticized, conflicted, mortal women were visions of himself.
Both these men were politically right-wing, by the way. Another curious feature is that it is Balanchine, who became an American citizen in 1939, who made the more hierarchical ballets, while it is Sir Frederick Ashton, Order of Merit, Companion of Honour, friend of the Queen Mother and often a kind of choreographic poet laureate, who stressed the importance of community. Does this suggest perhaps an aspect of the homosexual mind? In Ashton’s case, I think yes. Friends are there to help you through; rank is immaterial. It’s also striking how often Ashton celebrates fallibility: in his skating ballet Les Patineurs there are three different moments when people fall over. 82
I’m going to throw out two observations that strike me as true but are seldom made. First, it really is not Balanchine who’s the most musical of all choreographers83. It’s against the law to say this in New York, so please forgive me. But I find Ashton finds more in the music in the examples we’ve watched from Sylvia. And though I love everything about Balanchine’s response to Mendelssohn’s Nocturne in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I turn to Ashton’s and feel at once how many more layers of the music he reveals.
Second, however: it is Balanchine who’s the greater dramatist – and this is a point almost nobody ever makes. I’ve written in the New York Times that he is, with Samuel Beckett, one of the two greatest dramatists of the twentieth century. <CUT ON MONDAY 6> (In some moods I add Merce Cunningham to make it three, but Cunningham so extended drama that it’s hard – perhaps fruitless – to rank him here.) <END OF CUT> About the narrative ballets by Balanchine and Ashton, I’d say – another generalization, I’m afraid – that it’s Ashton who tells stories even better, but that it is Balanchine who tells far better stories, with astonishing moments of tragedy, conflict, confrontation, mystery. And those qualities are yet more present in many of his plotless ballets, which are often his most dramatic works of all.
I’m going to end with two portraits of the artist:-
Divertimento from Baiser de la fée MGZIC 9-4367B (final 3 mins, 21 secs)
(1993 New York City Ballet Balanchine Celebration performance: Peter Boal, Nichol Hlinka)
Balanchine choreographed the actual Divertimento from Stravinsky’s 1928 Le Baiser de la fée in 1972; he had first tackled the complete ballet in 1937. Then in 1974 he added this ending. The astonishing dramatic feat is that, whereas this music, in the complete ballet, depicts the Fairy luring the young man – who is implicitly a poet or artist – away from his fiancée and into her icy realm, now Balanchine dispensed with the Fairy altogether.
The Poet and his fiancée separate for ever, but because of no external powers. The sundering forces come from within themselves. The female corps de ballet materializes to clinch this drama, but Balanchine has already given us an astounding image to show how the lovers are apart even when they are together. On a thunderbolt on the score, just before the score’s main statement of Tchaikovsky’s “None but the Lonely Heart”, the fiancée arrives in a sudden arching backbend on the man’s waist, but without his arms holding her. She claims him, but her head is arched back, and she never sees him again for the rest of the ballet.
She’s on point. As he now holds her waist, her legs slowly start to tread their way dramatically forward, yet neither of them see whither – they’re both looking behind. Then they kneel and embrace, but in farewell (with no eye contact). And the line of corps women, utterly impersonal, keeps coming between them, as if to underline the parting we already know is inevitable. Then the corps becomes one image after another: a barrier between the lovers, the forest in which the lovers cannot find each other.
And the lovers start simply to walk – slowly, backwards, their heads and arms addressing the sky above – on different paths. As the ballet ends, they’re once again the only people onstage, but now in separate paths.
Enigma Variations, the “Nimrod” variation for Jaeger, Elgar, and Alice Elgar
(1968, Covent Garden dress rehearsal with piano accompaniment added).
Both Balanchine and Ashton made several portraits of the artist over the decades: Balanchine’s Apollo and Ashton’s Illuminations are among them. Ashton’s last one is Enigma Variations (1968), to Edward Elgar’s famous score of that name; Elgar, the English composer, is his protagonist. <CUT ON MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY> And to bring in Kirstein one last time, it’s worth observing that Lincoln Kirstein, telling the history of ballet in terms of forty ballets from four centuries in his singularly original book Movement and Metaphor (1971), makes Enigma Variations the last ballet of his survey: he gives it the title “The Composer as First-Dancer”. Kirstein writes of Ashton:
He portrayed the musician in a domestic rather than a tragic or romantic ambience. Love is present, not as passion, but blanketed by maturity and friendship. What might have been parochial proved, through the images Ashton found, a dance-drama recreating a special world, parallel to those evoked by Turgenev, James, or E.M.Forster, unthinkable in other backgrounds than their own, yet transcending them into universality by intensity of emotion and human savor.84 <END OF CUT>
The trio I’m showing you is to the so-called “Nimrod” variation: it depicts Elgar’s close friend Jaeger and a conversation the two men had about music. (I should warn you that, for the British, this music is emotionally loaded stuff: it’s played at the Cenotaph every Remembrance Sunday when the Queen and other leaders of the nation lay their wreaths to honor those who fought in the two world wars.)
Ashton’s choreography begins with two of the nuttiest moments in all choreography. In the first, Jaeger – in his waistcoat and with his prissy schoolmasterly manners (he often clasps his hands together) – on a particular stress in the music simply adjusts his spectacles. Adjusts his spectacles! But this prepares you for a dance that is the ultimate demonstration of English understatement.
In the other, when Elgar joins him, the two men greet each other like friends – and then start to do low arabesques – these correctly dressed Victorian gentlemen in their sports jackets, trousers, and laced shoes. “I say, old chap, how about an arabesque?” It’s absurd – and yet, and yet…
The whole dance is about what can’t be said – in particular what can’t be said about art and music; and the tension that builds as they start, with those arabesques, to move out of naturalistic behavior is part of their emotion. Very little happens between these two men: just arabesques and gestures. In an enigmatic ballet, these gestures address the central enigma most: music, art, inspiration, the ineffable.
They have reached the point of greatest ineffability – an impasse – when Alice Elgar joins them. She reconciles what small division there has been; she becomes the bridge between them (“Only connect”).
And then with her we feel the extraordinary moment when naturalistic behavior turns into classicism. All three, backs to the audience, make the same en couronne halo of the arms and, to the music, tip it in an arc, from one side to another. As the scene develops, the “bridge” image builds: Alice is lifted by one man to the other. When she, lifted by her husband, gives her hand to Jaeger, it has an astounding force (the music is powerful): something ceremonial but very potent.
Despite the lifts, the restraint of the scene is unbroken. Seldom do the three people raise their arms above shoulder-height: that “en couronne” gesture is one time they do so. Alice, it seems, has seamlessly become part of Elgar’s and Jaeger’s conversation about the ineffable. She and the two men run upstage together and, with their backs to us, gesture to the beyond – not up to the sky, but certainly with arms above shoulder-height. This gesture, not high but as if asking a big question, is the climax of the dance.
Then they run forward together, and reach the front of the stage, all three in relevé, again gesturing into the air before them, but now with lower arms. It’s the same question, but now asked more gently. There follows a remarkable effect: all three simply lower their heels to the floor while they maintain the arm gesture. The moment – the question -passes. Friendship remains. They turn away again and link their arms as they walk upstage and then depart.
I love both those ballets, Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la fée” and Enigma Variations; I love what they say about these two artists and about the potential of ballet itself. Ballet has not had artists of the calibre of these two men since they died in the 1980s.
And if you’ll allow one more generalization, then I’ll propose that Balanchine is the choreographer who gets under our skin. He opens us up, and shows us our capacity for transcendence. Ashton is our skin. He’s the dance poet of our nervous system and of this world. Thank you.
@Alastair Macaulay, 2018
- Alastair Macaulay: “Serenade: Evolutionary Stages”, Ballet Review, winter 2016-2017, vol. 44, no 4.
- Alexander Bland, interview with Balanchine, The Observer, September 1979. Quoted by Arlene Croce, “Trooping the Colors at Covent Garden,” The New Yorker, 1979, reprinted in Croce, Going to the Dance, 1982.
- David Vaughan, Frederick Ashton and his Ballets, p.321, second edition, Dance Books, UK, 1999.
- Alexander Grant, interview with Julie Kavanagh, Following Sir Fred’s Steps, Ashton Conference, Roehampton Institute, 1994.
- Ashton, interview with Alastair Macaulay, August 1980.
- Ashton, conversation with Alastair Macaulay, February 1988.
- David Vaughan, op. cit, p.xviii. Vaughan, uncharacteristically, gives no source reference, but in conversation mentioned that Balanchine said this to the London Ballet Circle. Robert Greskovic recalls that Clive Barnes quoted Balanchine saying the same thing but in a different context.
- Ashton, in conversation with Macaulay, February 1988.
- Kirstein, handwritten diary July 11, 1933; also Vaughan, op. cit, p.91.
- Kirstein, essay on Pavel Tchelitchew, “By With To & From:.
- Kirstein, July 11, 1933, handwritten diary.
- See “Prepare for Saints” and books on “Chick” Austin.
- See “Prepare for Saints”.
- Vaughan, op. cit, p.105.
- Kirstein, typed transcript of diary for December 21, 1934.
- Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography.
- Agnes de Mille, Dance to the Piper.
- Lincoln Kirstein, handwritten diary, July 11, 1933. New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- CHECK. But this photograph is easily found on google images.
- Kirstein, New York City Ballet.
- See 19.
- Reproduced in Anatole Chujoy, New York City Ballet.
- Vaughan, op. cit.
- Paul Kolnik photograph, 1982(?) in Kirstein, Portrait of Mr B. CHECK
- CHECK. Ballet Annual. But this photograph is easily found on google images.
- CHECK. Martha Swope rehearsal photograph of Balanchine rehearsing Diana Adams in Movements for Piano and Orchestra while Jacques d’Amboise looks. Easily found on Google images.
- Photograph of Ashton’s Tiresias by Roger Wood. Reproduced in Ballet Annual, also in David Vaughan op. cit.
- David Vaughan op. cit.
- Arthur Mitchell, New York Review of Books symposium on Agon, June 2017, New York, panel discussion.
- Ballet Annual 15 (UK), 1960: “A Tribute to Frederick Ashton”.
- Suzanne Farrell, Holding onto the Air.
- Martin Duberman, Lincoln Kirstein.
- Kirstein, handwritten diaries, entries for March 14 and 15, 1934.
- Julie Kavanagh, Secret Muses – the Life of Frederick Ashton.
- Late in the final scene of Daphnis, Daphnis and Chloë return to the stage horizontally through the ranks, she perched on his shoulder. This is a close echo of the ballerina’s return to the stage late in the third movement of Ballet Imperial. Fonteyn and Somes were first cast in both ballets at Covent Garden. Ashton and his designer John Craxton make the more heart-catching effect here by having Chloë swear hjere, for the first time, a red jacket.
- Lise ends her variation in Act One Scene Two of La Fille mal gardée with a series of fouetté turns on alternate legs – en dehors, en dedans, en dehors, and so on. In the 1950 version of Ballet Imperial, Beryl Grey, in the soloist role, made a memorable with this step: which has been slightly adjusted in later productions. (Information from David Vaughan.)
- Barbara Milberg Fisher, In Balanchine’s Company; Lincoln Kirstein, New York City Ballet; Richard Buckle, Adventures of a Ballet Critic and essays in Ballet (UK monthly).
- Photographs (mostly courtesy Richard Slaughter) posted by Macaulay on Instagram and Facebook, January 2018.
- As seen at the Joyce Theater, August 2016.
- My thanks to Daniel Applebaum for this observation.
- The so-called “Fanny Elssler” pas de deux in Act One Scene Two of Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée is to five tunes from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. Elssler made the original interpolation of these tunes in the 1830s, though the music in Ashton’s version is rearranged by John Lanchbery.
- My thanks to Daniel Applebaum for this observation.
- David Vaughan in 1979 immediately sent me a photograph of the McBride-Nureyev pose, with a note on the resemblance.
- Macaulay, “In Balanchine’s World”, Ballet Review, autumn 1983.
- Macaulay, “Notes on Dance Classicism”, Dance Theatre Journal, 1987, vol. 5; and “Further Notes on Dance Classicism”, Dance Theatre Journal, 1997, vol. 15.
- Macaulay, “Notes on Dance Classicism”, Dance Theatre Journal, 1987; Macaulay,. “A British Ballet Critic Looks at Javanese Bedhaya” (ed. David Gere, Looking Out, Multiculturalism in Dance); Macaulay, “Further Notes on Dance Classicism”, 1997.
- Source yet to be checked.
- A step in Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante is known as the “Astaire step”: my thanks to Mindy Aloff for this information, which she in turn derives from Suki Schorer.
- The Jessie Matthews backbends in the waltz Ashton’s Façade, a 1931 ballet. In a 2016 conversation, however, David Vaughan stated that he believed they were probably added by Ashton in 1941-44, when new costumes put the Waltz into skirts beneath the knee and thus required a greater emphasis from the upper body; he noted that the 1931 Waltz, dressed in shorter skirts, had reportedly featured more use of feet and legs.
- For The Guardian (UK), August 1980, before the premiere of Ashton’s Rhapsody.
- Arnold Haskell, Diaghileff, 1934
- Bernard Taper, Balanchine.
- Macaulay, same interview with Ashton, August 1980.
- Macaulay, “Ashton at Eighty,” Dance Theatre Journal, vol. 2 no 3, summer 1984.
- Ashton later confused the Monotones image of astronauts with that of men walking on the moon, as in a 1970s television interview before a Joffrey Ballet broadcast of Monotones (“You Americans had started landing on the moon”). Actually, Monotones was made before men landed on the moon, though it does indeed anticipate the famous footage of slow lunar walking. In 1965, however, the image of men walking in space was a definite influence on Ashton.
- Fonteyn, Autobiography.
- Bostridge, “Celebrity Britten”, Times Literary Supplement, March 20, 2013, (“The standing objection to Britten as a front-rank composer is always, of course, Stravinsky. Or, more precisely, Britten’s salience as a repertory composer seems to be some sort of affront to the clear superiority, for many musicians and, especially, composers, of the Russian master. Despite the difference in generation – and Stravinsky was, after all, the composer of the legendary Rite of Spring– both felt the force of this comparison. Stravinsky composed a whole string of works in the 1950s and 60s which seemed to be a direct challenge to Britten (The Rake’s Progress, The Flood, Abraham and Isaac, a setting of the Lyke Wake Dirge) and made disparaging remarks about Britten’s public standing, including his notorious “Kleenex at the ready” condemnation of the War Requiem. Britten himself enormously admired Stravinsky, was influenced by him, and even scared of him – “Ben tells his recent dream of Stravinsky as a monumental hunchback pointing with a quivering finger at a passage in the Cello Symphony ‘How dare you write that bar’” (from Pears’s diary, Christmas 1966) – but was perplexed by his formalist posturing and happy to set himself at a distance, however unfairly. He gave a speech to students at a new school in Ipswich in 1963, comparing The Flood, which he had recently seen in Hamburg, to his own Noye’s Fludde, in which the pupils had taken part: “I wasn’t jealous of Stravinsky; not at all. I was much happier with my performance in Orford church two years ago, sung by Kesgrave boys and girls, than that of Stravinsky in Hamburg Opera House by famous singers with long names”.)
- Ashton, interview with Macaulay, June 1984.
- Vaughan, op.cit.
- Kirstein, New York City Ballet.
- Macaulay, paper on Illuminations at Sur quel pied danser?, Oxford University Conference on dance and French literature, 2002.
- Jacques d’Amboise, conversations with Macaulay, 2007 and 2017.
- Vaughan, op.cit,
- Vaughan op, cit. Also Ashton, 1984 interview with Macaulay. Matisse’s remark perfectly corresponds to Arlene Croce’s 1974 line “Ashton’s line is that of a master draftsman whose pen never leaves the paper.”
- Vaughan op. cit; Macaulay, Ashton at Eighty, op.cit.
- Ashton often spoke as if all of Scènes de ballet was designed to be viewed from all angles. The scholar Stephanie Jordan, however, has shown that this is seriously true only of one section of the ballet.
- Denby, “Ashton’s “Cinderella” review, 1948.
- Kavanagh, op. cit.
- Joan Acocella, The New Yorker.
- Richard Glasstone, Diana Byer.
- Ashton, letter to Glasstone, quoted in Glasstone, Following Sir Fred’s Steps, edited by Stephanie Jordan and Andrée Grau, Dance Books, 1996.
- Farron, many conversasions with Macaulay between 1997 and 2010.
- Greskovic, Ballet Review, essay on books on ballet technique.
- CHECK Denby, “Ballet; The American Position”, Dance Writings
- Croce, “The Royal Ballet in New York”, Ballet Review, reprinted in Afterimages, Knopf, 1977.
- Stephanie Jordan’s Moving Music makes a definitive analysis of the choreographic musicality of both choreograophers.
- Information from Keith Money, 1999.
- Macaulay, review of Merce Cunningham’s August Pace, Dancing Times, 1989.
- Meredith Daneman, Margot Fonteyn, 2005.
- Kavanagh, op.cit.
- Maria Tallchief, in CHECK, Taper, Balanachne check.
- Macaulay, essay on Les Patineurs, Dancing Times, 1997.
- See also Jordan, op. cit.
- Kirstein, Movement and Metaphor, 1971.