Frederick Ashton and His Ballets

The Fred Step

Notes on the Fred Step

by Alastair Macaulay
@Alastair Macaulay, 2004

[Author's note: A considerably abbreviated version of this is now printed in the Royal Ballet programme for Frederick Ashton's "La Fille mal gardee".]

The triumph that the fifty-five-year-old Frederick Ashton scored in 1960 with "La Fille mal gardee" was the greatest of his already long career. Later that year, "Ballet Annual" published a tribute to him. This contained entries by the senior critic Arnold Haskell; Marie Rambert, the founder of modern British ballet and of Ashton’s career as choreographer; the great Russian-American choreographer George Balanchine; the ballerina Margot Fonteyn; the ballet teacher Vera Volkova; and the leading dancer Michael Somes. These appreciations cover thirty-four years of choreography by Ashton, the larger reasons for his greatness as an artist, and the endearing qualities of his personality. But Somes, at the end of his appreciation, tucks in a note about a “signature step” that occurs in every Ashton ballet. “Not many people who have watched and loved his work over many years realise”, he wrote, that this step has become an Ashton tradition. “Even when a new work is completed, room must somewhere be found for it in one form or another…. [It] has become dear to all of us who have had the privilege of working with Frederick Ashton. For us, it is a symbol of the reverence and the high esteem that we have for him.”

But Somes left it to his readers to discover what that step is. Only when the critic David Vaughan wrote "Frederick Ashton and his Ballets," one of the most beloved of all ballet books, were the components of this step revealed in print: in technical terms, the enchainment is as follows—pose en arabesque (i.e. a step onto pointe, or onto the ball of the foot, with the other leg stretched straight behind), coupe dessous (i.e. a small step back, transferring the weight onto the other foot, while picking up the first foot), small developpé a là seconde (in which the raised foot is brought into the ankle of the supporting leg, is drawn up a little, and is then extended out to the side), pas de bourrée dessous (a series of four small steps, transferring the weight sideways in the direction of the developpé), pas de chat (a sideways jump in which the knees are bent and which begins and ends with the feet closed together in fifth position). Vaughan also revealed that this step, or sequence of individual steps, is known by dancers as the “Fred step”. Ashton often preferred his friends to call him Freddie, but Fred is the name that most dancers, even those close to him, tended to use; or “Sir Fred” as he became, two years after the premiere of "Fille," in the Birthday Honours of 1962.

Ashton himself, as Somes and Vaughan both knew, liked to insist that he thought of this step-cluster not as “Fred” but as “Pavlova”. In an interview just before his eightieth birthday, he described it as a talisman. Anna Pavlova had been his introduction to ballet. “She injected me with her poison”, he often said, “and there was an end of me”. And, even though he went on to work with several of the twentieth century’s other greatest ballerinas, he was seldom in any doubt that Pavlova had been not only his first but the finest. When, in the 1960s, he asked Bronislava Nijinska “Who was the greatest ballerina of them all?”, he was gratified when she, without hesitation, replied “Pavlova”. (When he asked “What about Karsavina?”, she answered merely “Belle femme, belle femme.”) He never ceased to draw inspiration from his many memories of Pavlova as he had watched her between 1917 and her death in 1931. What was the “poison” she had planted in his veins? A devotion to classical dance itself: classicism not as mere academicism but as an endlessly expressive river into which all other dance forms could pour their enriching streams. His old colleague Robert Helpmann, who had danced in Pavlova’s company, said to an interviewer in 1970: “Every ballet that Fred choreographed, one knew or one saw that the principal female role would have been ideal for Pavlova. Next time you talk to him, ask him about it. Because I did and he said ‘Yes, of course she would have been wonderful. Because I think of her when I’m working all the time.’”

Today, our prime evidence for how Pavlova danced are the several short films she made of various short dances in her repertory, and the many photographs taken of her. Ashton was adamant that the films gave a particularly poor, misleading impression of her. He would describe the unsurpassed finesse of certain aspects of her allegro technique, and the tremendous control of her adagio technique; he would explain the stylistic fascination she exerted by showing steps at angles (“never boringly, flat-on to the audience”) or by ending pirouettes in non-formula positions. Above all, however, he would show—often by demonstrating—the heady perfume of her dance personality: the way she would crown a dance moment by the use of her eyes, the exoticism with which she would wreathe her arms around her head, the intensity with which she would bend her upper body while performing a grand port de bras, the little needlepoint steps with which she displayed her strikingly arched feet.

Over the decades, the renditions he gave to younger dancers over the decades seemed to catch the very essence of bygone dancers, but none more so than Pavlova. Today, many dance-goers derive their main idea of Pavlova from such Ashton dancers as the "Thais pas de deux" (1971). Antoinette Sibley, the ballerina upon whom he choreographed this, has said “Pavlova is almost all he talked about when he was making it.”

The talisman came from the Gavotte Pavlova that she often performed. Wearing mock-1800 costume, she danced it to winningly lowbrow music by Lincke called The Glow Worm. In his old age, Ashton, talking people through the lyrics, would show them how she phrased it: "Glow," (pose en arabesque, the first quarter-phrase) "little glow-worm, (coupe dessous, small developpe a la seconde, the second quarter-phrase) "glimmer" (pas de bourree) "glimmer" (pas de chat)—and, running that concluding half-phrase together in a single flow, he would show how the tripping pas de chat arrived in a pounce on the first syllable of the second "glimmer". When did he first place it in one of his ballets? In 1994, the ballerina Alicia Markova, speaking at the Ashton conference "Following Sir Fred's Steps", recalled the first time she worked with Ashton, in the short ballet that closed Nigel Playfair's 1930 production of the play "Mariage à la Mode." "It was the first time we met, and we seemed to get along very well. He started to choreograph the dances, and in the pas de deux I met for the first time what was later to become the 'Fred Step' at the time we both knew it was not Fred's step, it was the step Anna Pavlova danced in her 'Gavotte'. He suddenly said to me, 'You know that step she danced?' and I said 'Yes.' He said, 'Let's do it in the pas de deux.' That was the very first time we had that step—it became the 'Fred Step'. Perhaps that will put on record how that came about." However, since the Fred Step seems not to occur in his enduring classic "Façade" (1931), it may well have been Pavlova's death, later in 1931, that prompted him to start putting into the dances he went on to make, as if consecrating his art to hers. Certainly it is there in contemporary film footage of his 1933 Rambert ballet "Les Masques" and in the ballet sequences he made for the 1935 movie "Escape Me Never."

Even in so simple a sequence, it is possible to bring yet more detail to an analysis of this sequence of steps. For the 1994 Ashton conference Following Sir Fred’s Steps, the former Royal Ballet dancer, ballet-master, and notator Adrian Grater observed that the pose en arabesque is usually followed by a small fondu (i.e. in which the supporting leg bends at the knee), and that the small developpé is executed en fondu. I might complicate the matter yet further by adding that a particular sequence of ports de bras often, not always, accompanies this sequence of lower-body steps. The terminology might tire the reader, and, more important, such specifics would still seem lifeless unless each part of the sequence is executed with an Ashtonian sense of upper-body style. The eyes should show the focus of each part of the phrase; the wrists and fingers should be fluently submerged into the body’s changing line.

The point of this Pavlova/Ashton talisman is that the “signature” is hidden: different each time. There are, by contrast, other characteristically Ashtonian choreographic strokes that are easy to recognise from one ballet to another. Many dance-goers will recognise the “There you have it” gesture, which occurs in a number of ballets from 1934 to 1980, the “walking-on-air” lifts that he invented in 1939 and went on using in pas de deux as late as 1977, and the “Margot” arabesque (in which the downward diagonal lines of the woman’s arms continue those of her shoulders and in turn are paralleled by that of her raised leg), which is to be found especially in "Symphonic Variations," "Scenes de ballet," and "Cinderella." But the Fred step is often tucked away. He may give it to the ballerina (Antoinette Sibley as La Capricciosa in "Varii Capricci," 1983) or to supporting dancers ("Symphonic Variations," 1946). He may give it to a corps de ballet of peasants ("Sylvia," 1952), to junior dancers (a pair of dancing artichokes in the Princess Ida vegetable ballet he made for the 1979 film "Stories from a Flying Trunk"), or to a minor character (Moth in "The Dream," 1964). Often the eye is distracted from it by action elsewhere onstage. In each instance, it is changed in some aspect (particularly its conclusion), so that the entire step seems metamorphosed.

Perhaps its most archetypal setting occurs in Act One of "Cinderella" (1948). As the music sounds a gavotte, the Dancing Master teaches—of course!—the Gavotte Pavlova step to one Ugly Sister. But such is the fun of the situation that the audience is led to notice less their steps than this Stepsister’s timorous awkwardness—and the jealous pushiness with which the other sister forces her way in on the act. Left alone a little later, Cinderella recalls her sisters’ efforts to dance. When the music recalls that gavotte, she then shows, perfectly, how the Fred Step should have gone. She is at once so much the step’s mistress that she doesn’t end with its ending, she carries straight on, elongating the phrase into a quick series of relevés petits developpés. Dancing it a second time to the other side, she embellishes its pas de chat into a less conventional jump.

Ashton choreographs the way that Haydn composed: he takes a motif, adds to it, plays with it, changes its dynamics, sets it against something dissimilar, turns it inside out, extends it, transforms it. The Fred step seldom occurs once alone in any place; usually, it is reiterated. If so, it may become a travelling step; or it may be danced to one side and then, mirror-fashion, to the other; or it may be cut up and reassembled in new form. An object-lesson in the latter occurs in Act One of "The Two Pigeons" (1961): when the female neighbour arrives, the heroine’s eight friends and then the heroine herself take turns to hold her hands by way of greeting, and each one, while doing so, performs a different chunk of the Fred Step, so that, by the end of this little social politesse, the young women have fragmented the old step and put it together again. When it arrives in "The Dream" (1964), it occurs top speed and back to front, first step last and vice versa. It is danced, nervously, at the end of the Scherzo, by Moth—the last fairy left onstage. She is hovering on pointe in that pose en arabesque when Oberon comes up behind her and sends her packing. By contrast with that presto rendition, in "Rhapsody" (1980) it is danced largo by the corps de ballet. One ring of six men intersecting another ring of six women, the two circles moving slowly and smoothly in and out of each other, all the dancers enounce the phrase in solemn unison, like some sacred ritual. This effect is ideal for the music: these twelve, in variation VII of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, are dancing to his introduction of his counter-theme—the Dies Irae.

When members of the audience spot the Fred step, it is usually by the swaying change of direction that marks its opening half-phrase. The dancer seems to set forth in one direction, then to step back and to move in another. How Ashtonian this is: I’ll go left—no, I’ll go right. The humanity lies in the self-contradiction. And not just humanity. You can see Ashton himself doing it as the hedgehog Mrs Tiggywinkle in the 1971 film "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Some of its most recognizable uses have occurred when Ashton set it as an exit step, repeating it gently in a straight line until it takes the dancer into the wings. In his two last dances for Margot Fonteyn, "Salut d’amour" (1979) and "Acte de presence" (1984), Ashton himself joined the ballerina onstage and led her gently offstage, dancing the talisman as they went. In "A Month in the Country" (1976), Natalia Petrovna, after a brief scene with her loyal admirer Rakitin, takes his arm and leaves the stage with him: their backs are to the audience as they dance the Fred step, letting it lead them in a gentle zigzag path, as if it were the easy this-and-that conversation that these two old friends are having. In Ashton’s 1955 "Romeo and Juliet," by contrast, it is an entry step: the Nurse does it as she comes into the square with her page Peter. Likewise the seven ballerinas of "Birthday Offering" (1956) do it during the opening ensemble that brings them sweeping onto the stage.

Sometimes it is easy to miss the “Fred step” even when it is happening centre stage. Some artists involved in the Royal Ballet’s most recent revival of "A Wedding Bouquet" (1937) remarked that it seemed not to occur in that ballet. In fact, the housekeeper Webster (a role created on Ninette de Valois, and danced for many years by Monica Mason) does it in her opening solo. If we don’t notice it, there are good reasons why. Ashton has changed the pas de chat ending into a non-jumping step (one that’s yet more like elaborate needlework, pas de bourree pique sur les pointes); the sequence is phrased as part of an ongoing dance; and the mind is drawn principally to Webster’s bossy character, to the brusque way she pulls up her skirts, and to the fussy way she holds her head. Likewise it is simple to overlook the talisman in "Scenes de ballet" (1948)—even though it is the ballerina who dances it, and in her entrance solo, and just as she reaches centre stage. Ashton here, again, changes the signature step’s end, with an unusual version of tour jete replacing the pas de chat; and anyway her dance contains so much else that it’s easy not to notice this only partly familiar component. And it has often gone unnoticed in "Enigma Variations" (1968), even though Ashton there does several little variations upon its theme during the duet for Isabel Fitton and Richard Arnold. For, while they are dancing it stage right, Elgar’s wife enters on the other side. Finding one of her husband’s scores on the table, she picks it up, turns a page, and then tenderly presses the script to her breast: all of which proves an eloquent counterpoint to the serene Isabel-Richard romance. No wonder that many forget to look at what their feet are doing.

When Michael Somes stopped dancing, he became Ashton’s devoted regisseur. Anthony Dowell has recalled how sometimes, in rehearsals, Ashton would just be finishing his choreography when Somes would exclaim “We haven’t had a Fred Step yet—you’d better put one in.” Back in 1950, Ashton, when making Illuminations on New York City Ballet in 1950 (with no Somes on the scene), had forgotten to include his signature. Actually, there were a few occasions in later years, even with Somes present in rehearsals, when the Fred Step was omitted: such as the "Thais pas de deux" (1971), and "The Walk to the Paradise Garden" (1972). (The Pavlova step, of course, would be out of place in "Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan" (1975-76).)

All these were successes. Yet Ashton and Somes remained generally superstitious in their efforts to include the Fred Step. In 1981, when reviving "Illuminations" for the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, Ashton made sure he added it. The same year, making new choreography for the Stravinsky opera-ballet "Le Chant du Rossignol," the seventy-seven-year-old Ashton made one of his most radical transformations for Dowell as the Fisherman. Here, the dancer leans more forward than usual in the opening arabesque, and raises his leg higher than usual; then he arches further back, while making the developpe for once not small but large. Next, instead of a pas de chat, his legs explode in a temps de fleche. Whereas the Fred Step often looks like crochet, here the Fisherman takes it skimming over a great deal of stage space, in a zigzag that sweeps from side to side of the stage. As the music-dance scholar Stephanie Jordan has recently observed, the legato phrasing is so fluent that it fits a four-bar musical phrase the first two times (at its most orthodox, the Fred Step has eight counts), and then fits a five-bar phrase without any apparent strain.

He had remembered to include it in 1955, when making "Romeo and Juliet" on the Royal Danish Ballet. Nonetheless, in 1985, when he revived that on London Festival Ballet (later English National Ballet), his new staging demonstrated three other Fred steps. Probably they were newly inserted: better safe than sorry. One for Juliet and Romeo in the ballroom; one for the courtiers in the same scene; and one (very well hidden) for the townsfolk of Verona in Act II, usually overlooked because in the foreground Livia is dancing brilliantly.

The 1985 version of "Romeo and Juliet" is not the only ballet in which it occurs twice. It even occurs in two different places in the short "Voices of Spring pas de deux" (1977). The first time is an especially neat display of Ashton’s craftsmanship: the ballerina and her partner dance it at the same time, she (in front) as the conclusion of her little solo, he (behind) as the opening step of his. Both times, they dance it in opposite directions—one to the right as the other does it the left. Likewise there are story ballets in which it is to be found in more than one scene—for examples, Scenes One and Three of "Daphnis and Chloe." In Scene One, it is rearranged to fit a seven-beat musical phrase; in Scene Three, when the finale has five beats to a bar, Ashton fits in the opening three-quarters of his signature—and then, as the music erupts into its last calls of joy, all the dancers (instead of skipping sideways in pas de chat) leap up and down in high changements on the spot—perhaps the most ebullient conclusion of any ballet.

And in "La Fille mal gardée" the Pavlova talisman crops up in all three of the ballet’s main scenes. Each of them, however, is tricky for the layman to spot. In Scene One, it’s the peasants (as in "Sylvia") who do it. Although these smocked farm-workers do bending, beaten jumps to and fro that make them instantly heartcatching, Ashton also brings them right down to earth in the Fred Step, making them bend the supporting knee almost throughout. In Scene Two, by contrast, one of Lise’s friends dances a light, bright variation on the Fred Step as she starts to dance the flute dance. Then, as she summons her friends to join in, she and two others do a further variation on it, half in reverse. (Later, when Alain tries to play the flute himself, these friends respond by starting to dance the Fred step very slowly and awkwardly. They just can’t complete it.)

The most recognisable Fred Step comes in the finale of Act Two: Lise does it, first alone, then with her friends. This too has a new twist, though. It substitutes, for the pas de chat, something that looks like an inversion of it: a pair of relevés assemblés—pulling up onto pointe just where the pas de chat would have arrived down on flat foot.

Ashton was rightly proud of his craftsmanship. There are rare works—the endlessly intricate Scenes de ballet is the main ultimate example—where he calls some attention to this. As a rule, though, his is the art that conceals art, so that, of those who love his works, most do so for reasons other than that they are brilliantly constructed. But he was an Old Master, even when young, and there is no choreographer whose work repays multiple viewings more. The Fred Step is just one of his choreography’s many secretions. To study the way he kept changing it and hiding it is to see in detail just how he handled his classical mastery of dance language. For all that this talisman may be broken down into individual steps, it’s right to call it a step as a whole. It is a unit; it has its own flow, its own vigour. With it, he took Pavlova’s poison and alchemically transformed it into the serum that would make his ballets grow.

@Alastair Macaulay, 2004

Alastair Macaulay is chief theatre critic of The Financial Times and chief dance critic of the Times Literary Supplement.

The Fred Step located –
notes by Alastair Macaulay, with help from others.

copyright @Alastair Macaulay, 2005

Note: Where an Ashton ballet is unlisted, this is because at present its Fred step has not yet been identified.

Mariage a la Mode, 1930

According to Alicia Markova in 1994 (see "Following Sir Fred's Steps—Ashton's Legacy", edited by Stephanie Jordan and Andree Grau, Dance Books, 1996, p. 170), Ashton first employed the "Gavotte Pavlotta" step in the pas de deux he made here on Markova and himself. It was his first work with Markova. "It was the first time we met, and we seemed to get along very well. He started to choreograph the dances, and in the pas de deux I met for the first time what was later to become the 'Fred Step' at the time we both knew it was not Fred's step, it was the step Anna Pavlova danced in her 'Gavotte'. He suddenly said to me, 'You know that step she danced?' and I said 'Yes.' He said, 'Let's do it in the pas de deux.' That was the very first time we had that step—it became the 'Fred Step'. Perhaps that will put on record how that came about."

Les Masques, 1933

see David Vaughan, Frederick Ashton and his Ballets.

Escape Me Never, film, 1934

See David Vaughan, Frederick Ashton and his Ballets, p. 112. Fonteyn (or Beatrice Appleyard) in her performance as a ballerina.

Le Baiser de la fee, 1935.

Geraldine Morris writes that it occurs in the dance for the eight Bridesmaids “when the Bride joins in near the end. It's performed twice normally, then several times clipped.” Geraldine was taught it in 1970 for the Tribute to Sir Frederick Ashton Gala.

A Wedding Bouquet, 1937

Webster dances this in her opening solo. (See Adrian Grater, op. cit.)

Symphonic Variations, 1946

Here it is danced by five of the six dancers, while the main ballerina (the role created on Margot Fonteyn) stands still in one corner of the stage. The three men are just reaching the end of their first dance together, and the two "side" women, who have been standing still, are just starting to dance again. The five dance the Fred Step at the same time, although the women give it a different ending from that of the men. The women then start their duet, while the men return to stillness. This is a nice example of Ashton "hiding" the Fred Step: for many people between 1946 and 1963, Fonteyn's stillness during this passage was so transcendent that they scarcely paid attention to what was being danced elsewhere. (A similar split-focus effect happens in "Enigma Variations." While Isabel and Arnold are dancing their duet—which includes the Fred Step— to one side of the stage, Lady Elgar enters on the other side. For many people, Svetlana Beriosova, the original Lady Elgar, proved so absorbing here in her naturalistic movements that they never paid full attention to the Isabel-Arnold dance.) And Ashton's construction of using the Fred Step simultaneously to end one dance (the men's) and to introduce another (the women's) is something he would do again in the 1977 "Voices of Spring" pas de deux (q.v.).

Scenes de ballet, 1948

The ballerina dances it, in her first solo. (The pas de chat becomes a tour jete, but closing in front.)

Cinderella, 1948

In Act One, the Ugly Sisters dance it with the Dancing Master;
Then, not long after, Cinderella in “broom” dance, as if correcting them. (See Grater, op. cit.)

I think there are also drawn-out variations on the Fred step for the ballroom corps de ballet, and maybe in the Act Three pas de deux.

Illuminations, 1950

According to Adrian Grater, there was none in the 1950 original. When re-staging it for the Royal Ballet in 1981, Ashton added one for a group of girls. (See Grater, op. cit.)

Daphnis and Chloe, 1951

The four leading characters do it with the corps de ballet in Scene One. (See David Vaughan, p. 247 and Grater, op. cit., p. 94.) The corps dancers do it first, then everyone does it a little later. Interestingly, the pas de chat is omitted, and the pas de bourree, drawn out, leads straight into the next pose en arabesque. However, Chloe and Lykanion are lifted, I think in pas de chat, and this seems to conclude the phrase.

There is also a single Fred step at the very end of the Scene Three finale, the pas de chat replaced by two changements, that leads into the final jumps and turn. (See Grater, op. cit.)

Tiresias, 1951

Tom (Douglas) Steuart told Geraldine Morris that here it was done with two changements and hand clapping on the thighs.

Sylvia, 1952

The peasants dance it in Act One. As Robert Greskovic notes, "The peasant women who join the bucolic dance begun by the other peasants in the first act of 'Sylvia', execute the Fred Step on a lovely, small-scale, with their little wheelbarrows and other rustic props, at the front of the 16 (?) dancer group in the grotto of Eros."

Romeo and Juliet, 1955, as staged on London Festival Ballet (English National Ballet) in 1985.

David Vaughan, writing on the original Danish production, notes only one instance (the Nurse with her page Peter in Act Two).

However, in 1985, I noted no fewer than four separate usages of the Fred step here. Romeo and Juliet dance it in the ballroom (or is it Juliet with Paris? I think not), the Capulets dance it in the ballroom, the Nurse with her page Peter, and the townsfolk behind Livia (who is dancing a brilliant solo). It may be that Ashton added the other three Fred steps in 1985.

Birthday Offering, 1956

Alll seven ballerinas do a variation on it in their opening dance; and the prima (Fonteyn) ballerina does another variation of it in isolation with her partner.

La Fille mal gardée, 1960.

Here there are three. The smocked farm-workers do a disguised one in Act One Scene One; the Flute dance in Act One Scene Two begins with one for the first of Lise’s friends; and Lise does one in the finale of Act Two, first alone, then in unison with her friends. (See Vaughan, p. 307; and Grater pp. 95-96.)

The Two Pigeons, 1961

The Young Girl and her eight friends do variations on the Fred step while greeting the Neighbour, often while holding her hand. See Vaughan, p.316; and Grater, p. 98.

Persephone, 1961

Geraldine Morris writes “It's also in Persephone in the Friends’ dance, not fully, but the rhythm is there.”

The Dream, 1964

At the end of the Scherzo, the last fairy, Moth (originally Ann Jenner), does it, just before Oberon re-enters and mimes: Scram!

She does it not only very fast, but back to front, ending on the piquée arabesque as Oberon arrives. (See David Vaughan, p. 342: note the revision in the second <Dance Books> edition. See Grater, p. 95.)

Monotones, 1965-66

Sibley and Dowell (in October ’04) thought there was no Fred step here, in either pas de trois.

Enigma Variations, 1968

Isabel and Arnold do it extensively in their pas de deux.

The Tales of Beatrix Potter, 1970

Mrs Tiggywinkle dances it.

Thais pas de deux, 1971

None. Sibley and Dowell confirmed this in October ‘04.

A Month in the Country, 1976

Natalia Petrovna and Rakitin, backs to the audience, arm in arms, as they leave the stage. (See David Vaughan p. 398.

Voices of Spring (Fruhlingstimmenwaltzer) in Die Fledermaus, 1977

Both ballerina and her partner dance it. The first time, it comes as the end of her mini-solo and the start of his. Later, they dance it again. The pas de chat becomes a soutenu. (See David Vaughan, p. 408. Grater p. 97.) Both times, they dance it in opposite directions – one to the left while the other does it the right.

Tales from a Flying Trunk, 1979 – staged in 1982as Pas de legumes

In the original film, Denise Nunn and Ashley Page dance it in an Artichoke pas de deux, and they do it again in the coda. The pas de chat is changed into a lift.

Salut d’amour, 1979

Famously, Fonteyn and Ashton did it together, arm in arm, as he led her into the wings. See David Vaughan, p. 409.

Rhapsody, 1980

(David Vaughan p. 411.) All twelve members of the corps de ballet (6m, 6f) in concentric rings that crosscross as they do it. The Fred Step is set to the Dies Irae (Rakhmaninov’s variation 7, I think), and is set very slowly – the slowest version of the Fred step I know.

Le Chant du Rossignol, 1981

The Fisherman (Dowell) does in one of his solos. Stephanie Jordan points out that the first two times it is set across a 4-beat rhythm, then onto a 5-beat. What’s interesting is that he covers a lot of space doing it and that the whole style is much more full-blown than usual for the Fred step. His torso really arches back as he does a développé that is by no means small but maybe past hip-height, and at the end he jumps in not a pas de chat but a temps de fleche.

Varii Capricci, 1983

I wrote in 1983 that Sibley dances it as La Capricciosa - but I can’t now remember where.

Acte de presence, 1984

(David Vaughan, p. 416.) Again, Fonteyn and Ashton went offstage doing the Fred step arm in arm.

Nursery Suite, 1986

This dance, the last entirely new piece of choreography of Ashton's career, was made for a Royal Opera House gala in honour of the present Queen Elizabeth's sixtieth birthday. At the time, two years before Alan Bennett put the Queen onstage as a character in "A Question of Attribution", any depiction of current royalty onstage was virtually unknown, least of all for galas in the presence of royalty. But this dance depicted the present Queen and her sister Princess Margaret as they had been in the early 1930s as "the little princesses" (the title of a later book by their governess Marion Crawford) and more or less as they had been at the time Edward Elgar composed this musical suite in their honour. Zoe Anderson has recently established that Ashton actually choreographed it on Vanessa Palmer and Sarah Wildor, who had just the movement qualities he enjoyed; but he felt obliged to give the performance to two other Royal Ballet School girls whose physical resemblance to the two princesses was more marked. (He assured Palmer and Wildor that better luck would come their way, and indeed they both went on to dance Ashton roles with the Royal Ballet. Wildor danced a number of Ashton ballerina roles, and Palmer is still dancing Ashton soloist roles at the time of writing - 2006.)

Though "Nursery Suite" was never danced again, it was preserved on video and DVD. This shows that the Fred step, easily recognisable, occurs in the opening dance, performed by both princesses together, hand in hand.

@Alastair Macaulay, 2005-2006



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