David Ashmole: Ballet dancer and teacher whose elegance made him ideal for the princely 'danseur noble' roles
Tuesday 01 September 2009
David Ashmole, principal dancer and teacher, who died too young and too unexpectedly, was, in the ballet terminology of older times, a danseur noble, a dancer destined to play princes, because he combines elegance with long, beautiful lines. "Any position he took, it always looked beautiful," said the former ballerina Margaret Barbieri, who had a lengthy working relationship with him. "I always think of him as our beautiful David. Yet he was always humble; he never pushed himself; and that is so rare in our profession." For those and other qualities he will be remembered by audiences in Britain, where he danced with the two Royal Ballet companies, and by audiences in Australia, who knew him as a member of the Australian Ballet.
Born on 31 October 1949 in the East Riding village of Cottingham (also the birthplace of Sir Brian Rix and burial place of Philip Larkin), he was accepted into the Royal Ballet School at the age of 15 and joined the Royal Ballet three years later in 1968. There he made rapid progress, dancing central roles in ballets by Frederick Ashton (Cinderella, Symphonic Variations, The Two Pigeons) and MacMillan (Romeo and Juliet), and was made a principal in 1975. The same year he joined the touring sister company, Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet (now Birmingham Royal Ballet).
This expanded his repertoire considerably: from the fickle-hearted Franz in Coppélia to the regal Oberon in The Dream, from the classical grandeur of Raymonda to the neo-classicism of The Four Temperaments. He also had many roles created on him: by the company's then-director Peter Wright (Summertide), the present director David Bintley (Swan of Tuonela, Night Moves, Homage to Chopin) and Michael Corder (Three Pictures).
He made guest appearances in Japan, Germany and South Africa, and with Scottish Ballet. He was one of the leading dancers in a BBC broadcast of Ashton's Les Rendezvous, a suite of dances demanding musicality and charm; and, with Margaret Barbieri, took part in a BBC Master Class given by the great ballerina Dame Alicia Markova.
In 1984, when his wife and fellow-dancer Petal Miller decided to return home to Australia, he accepted a contract with the Australian Ballet. Glen Tetley created the title role of Orpheus on him. When in 1990 the Australian Ballet came to the New York Metropolitan House he was the cruel Roman General Crassus in Laszlo Seregi's version of Spartacus. About this, The New York Times critic Anna Kisselgoff wrote: "He had the right physique and weighted gesture to command both the stage and the Romans." Remembering Ashmole from earlier New York performances as one of the Royal Ballet's "rising young classical soloists", she also praised his strong dramatic interpretation as Albrecht in Giselle during the same New York season.
With the Australian Ballet he also toured China, the Soviet Union, Japan, Europe and the UK. He was the prince in the performance of The Sleeping Beauty, attended by the Queen, which opened the company's 1988 London season. The DVD of that production features him in the same role.
He retired in 1993 and after a break concentrated on teaching. It was partly because of Margaret Barbieri that he returned to live in London. As director of the classical section of the London Studio Centre, she was keen to use him. This eventually became a full-time commitment when she offered him a permanent contract as Head of the Boys classes and, when, coincidentally, his wife Petal was invited to teach at the Royal Ballet School.
"I adored dancing with him," Barbieri said of their stage partnership, "and I was so happy that we could carry on working together as teachers." He passed on the qualities that made him such a good pas de deux partner. "As a dancer, he put his partner first and, as a teacher, he stressed the importance of always making sure the girl looked good."
Dance was his passion. "He just loved to dance. He was so dedicated. It didn't matter how exhausting a performance had been the previous night, he was always right there in class the next day." As a person, he was rather reserved. "But he was a very warm and caring person."
David Ashmole, dancer and teacher: born Cottingham, Yorkshire 31 October 1949; married Petal Miller; died London 25 July 2009.
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