Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton
Frederick Ashton, one of the greatest choreographers in the history of dance, forever changed the landscape of English ballet, defining what we now know as the English classical style. Julie Kavanagh is the first person to have been given complete access to Ashton's papers, and with Secret Muses she has written a brilliant account of his life and work, from his colorful childhood in Lima to his prolific career as a dancer and choreographer, first with the Ballet Rambert and then as Resident Choreographer of the Vic-Wells Ballet (later known as the Royal Ballet), the company that Ashton directed from 1963 to 1970. Among Ashton's more than eighty ballets and shorter works for operas and films were such masterpieces as Symphonic Variations, Scenes de ballet, La Fille mal gardee, Enigma Variations, as well as the famous collaboration with Virgil Thomson on Gertrude Stein's full-length avant-garde opera Four Saints in Three Acts. Kavanagh describes them all in lively and illuminating detail, highlighting as well the fascinating interaction between Ashton and the dancers with whom he worked: Tamara Karsavina, Alexandra Danilova, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov among them. But Ashton's influence extended far beyond the world of dance. The economist Maynard Keynes and his ballerina wife, Lydia Lopokova, championed him early on; W. B. Yeats asked him to stage plays at The Abbey; and Edith Sitwell was a friend and fan who relished his celebrated imitations. Bringing to light important new material, Kavanagh has written a definitive account of one of the most important cultural figures of the twentieth century.
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