Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1904, Frederik Ashton was the dancer and choreographer who led the Royal Ballet to its esteemed international reputation. While Ashton is thought of as the most English of choreographers, his father was a diplomat in South America; Ashton was born in Ecuador and spent his formative years in Peru. It was while he was at school in Lima that he first saw Anna Pavlova, in 1917. After seeing the renowned ballerina perform, he fell passionately in love with the art.
As a result, his family took him, in the early 1920s, to London, where he studied under the Russian-born choreographer Léonide Massine and the British dancer Marie Rambert. Ashton's first choreographies were encouraged and influenced by Rambert and the Russian-born choreographer Bronislava Nijinska. His early choreographic efforts included The Tragedy of Fashion (1926), and Capriol Suite (1930).
In 1935, he became a permanent member of the Vic-Wells Ballet (later the Sadler's Wells Ballet, then the Royal Ballet). This not only established himself as an eminent choreographer and dancer, but also began a long association with the British ballerina Margot Fonteyn, who created the leading roles for many of his ballets. He was director of the Royal Ballet from 1963 to 1970, during which time some of his important creations were Marguerite and Armand (1963), written for Fonteyn and the Soviet-born dancer Rudolf Nureyev; Monotones(1965-66); and Enigma Variations (1968). Later works include a solo piece for the British dancer Lynn Seymour, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan (1975-1976) and Month in the Country (1976).
In addition to working with the Royal Ballet, Ashton also choreographed for operas, musical comedies, films, and reviews. Frederik Ashton died at his Suffolk home in 1988.