Frederick Ashton, the founding choreographer of English ballet, saw his influence extend far beyond that world. For more than fifty years he worked with the most famous dancers of his day: Tamara Karsavina, Alexandra Danilova, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Many celebrated figures came to know this dazzling and witty personality: the pioneering dancer/choreographer Bronislava Nijinska was his mentor; economist Maynard Keynes and his ballerina wife Lydia Lopokova championed him early on; Henri Matisse and E. M. Forster admired his work; W. B. Yeats asked him to stage plays at The Abbey.Secret Muses, Julie Kavanagh's magnificent biography of Ashton, is also an important social history of England and America: we see Ashton vacationing with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the South of France; working with Cecil Beaton and the composer Lord Berners in Oxfordshire; spending a weekend with Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams in Rhinebeck, New York.
Given complete access to Ashton's papers, Kavanagh has written a compelling and definitive account of one of the most important cultural figures of the twentieth century.
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