Frederick Ashton created Marguerite and Armand for Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in 1963, as a celebration of their unique dance partnership. The narrative was drawn from the play La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils, which also inspired Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. Ashton concentrates the play’s tragic essence in choreography of great intensity – Fonteyn recalled that rehearsals for the work contained ‘a passion more real than life itself’.
The ballet is set to Franz Liszt’s La lugubre gondola and his famous Piano Sonata in B Minor. It depicts the burgeoning love between Marguerite and Armand, movingly expressed through passionate lifts and increasingly free movements. However, the lovers’ happiness is threatened by social convention and the ‘gilded cage’ in which Marguerite lives – evoked by Cecil Beaton in his elegant stage designs. The moment at which Marguerite realizes that she must renounce Armand is one of devastating stillness. The final pas de deux, as Marguerite lies dying in Armand’s arms, is among the most moving in Ashton’s output.
Frederick Ashton created more than one hundred works during his lifetime (1904–88). For further information, please visit www.frederickashton.org.uk.