Not So Black and White: Frederick Ashton’s “Outsider” Ballet

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Abstract

This essay reframes Ashton’s early career, exploring the evolution of his style in a broader context of modernism, and proposing that his ‘outsider’ status in the realm of classical dance allowed him to evolve an innovative, nuanced approach to choreography. It explores the evolution of Ashton’s technical approach and the external influences on the young choreographer in the period leading up to his work on Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s avant-garde opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. This piece formed a crucial turning point in the development of Ashton’s approach, synthesising classicism with modern and popular dance techniques. Using Four Saints as a case study, this essay challenges the prevailing attitude of Ashton as the doyenne of English ballet, problematises binary notions of ‘black’ and ‘white’ dance by accounting for exotic inheritance, and proposes that Ashton’s ‘English’ style in fact emerges from a synthesis of modernist influences.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication4 Saints in 3 Acts
Subtitle of host publicationA snapshot of the American avant-garde in the 1930s
EditorsPatricia Allmer, John Sears
PublisherManchester University Press
ISBN (Print)978 1 5261 1303 0
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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