The new guardians of the Ashton legacy

A week after the death of Alexander Grant, who inherited the copyright to Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, comes the announcement of a new Frederick Ashton Foundation, established to perpetuate the legacy of Ashton who died 23 years ago.

The foundation, based at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, will work with the existing Ashton ballet copyright holders “to develop the skills of those who will be registered to teach, coach and stage Ashton’s ballets in the future”.

This initiative will protect the way in which the ballets are staged after the deaths of the existing copyright holders. In 2004, the copyright holders, who held artistic and financial control over their ballets formed an informal Ashton Trust.

Among the members were Ashton’s nephew, Anthony Russell-Roberts, who was the recipient of most of the ballets and those who inherited individual ballets – Michael Somes (Cinderella and Symphonic Variations), Margot Fonteyn, (Ondine and Daphnis and Chloe), Alexander Grant, (La Fille mal gardĂ©e and Façade), Anthony Dowell, (The Dream and A Month in the Country), and Brian Shaw, (Les Patineurs and Les Rendezvous). Ashton’s last lover, the architect, Tony Dyson, inherited Monotones and Enigma Variations.

Since Ashton’s death, four of them have died – Somes, Shaw, Fonteyn and Grant.

Somes’s heir was his widow, Wendy Ellis Somes, while Shaw’s heir was his companion, Derek Rencher. Fonteyn’s heir was her brother, Felix Fonteyn [he changed his surname from Hookham), then after his death, his widow, Phoebe Fonteyn. Grant’s heir or heirs are not yet known.

Two of the copyright holders have a major role in the new foundation. Dyson is chairman and Russell Roberts is one of the trustees.

One of the initial projects of the foundation is the release next month of an Opus Arte DVD of Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet, Les Patineurs and various divertissements.

The Australian Ballet has eight Ashton ballets in its repertoire, most not performed since the 1960s and 1970s with the exception of Birthday Offering which came into the rep in 1989 and Fille, a ballet that has returned regularly since its Australian premiere in 1967.

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Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann, 1950, on the set of Apparitions

Frederick Ashton