SIR FREDERICK ASHTON was one of the chief creators of the lyrical, reserved style of English ballet classicism. The Lincoln Center Festival’s unparalleled Ashton Celebration, which opens on Tuesday at the Metropolitan Opera House, will suggest his range, his passion for his medium and his abiding humanity.
Over two weeks, four companies will perform 12 works, both familiar and seldom seen, that span 31 years. One troupe is the Royal Ballet, which Ashton helped to create. Another, the K-Ballet Company from Japan, will make its North American debut. The Birmingham Royal Ballet and Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, who complete the quartet, have made it a mission to preserve and perform Ashton’s ballets.
Ashton, who died in 1988 at the age of 83, fell in love with ballet in his early teens when he saw a performance by Anna Pavlova, whose exotic presence impressed him. An even greater inspiration was Marius Petipa, the 19th-century architect of what we know today as classical ballet.
Ashton told stories in his ballets, with humor and an intense empathy for the most unlikely characters. He could distill dance to its luminous, serene essence or fill the stage with complex, grand design. Here is a guide to five ballets to be performed at the festival.