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Façade is a ballet by Frederick Ashton, to the music of William Walton; it is a balletic interpretation of items from Façade – an Entertainment (1923) by Walton and Edith Sitwell. The ballet was first given by the Camargo Society at the Cambridge Theatre, on 26 April 1931. It has been regularly revived and restaged all over the world.

ChoreographerFrederick Ashton
MusicWilliam Walton
Based on Façade, an Entertainment
Premiere26 April 1931
Cambridge Theatre, London
DesignJohn Armstrong


In 1923 Façade – an Entertainment was first given in public. It consisted of poems by Edith Sitwell recited by the author over music composed for the purpose by William Walton, performed by an ensemble of six players. The work was regarded as avant-garde and caused some controversy.[1] In 1926 Walton arranged a suite of five of the numbers, omitting the spoken verses and expanding the orchestration. In 1929 the choreographer Günter Hess created a Façade ballet for the German Chamber Dance Theatre, using Walton's orchestral suite; Sitwell declined to allow her words to be used. Hess visited London in 1930 and is believed to have exchanged ideas with Ashton.[2]

Ashton's ballet was premiered by the Camargo Society, established the previous year to foster the work of British dancers and choreographers.[n 1] The work was set to the five items of Walton's suite, and orchestrations of two other numbers from the original entertainment, which are thought to have been made for the purpose by Constant Lambert, who conducted the premiere.[4]


Façade is a one-act ballet of seven to ten divertissements, described by the ballet critic Debra Crane as "choreographic satires on popular dance forms and their dancers".[5] There is no plot. The numbers as danced in the original production are:

  • Scotch Rhapsody
  • Jodelling Song
  • Polka
  • Valse
  • Popular Song
  • Tango-Pasodoble
  • Finale – Tarantella Sevillana.

Ashton revised the ballet over the years. "Country Dance" was added in 1935; "Noche espagnola" and "Foxtrot" in 1940.[6]

Original castEdit

Source: Ashton Archive.[7]

Critical receptionEdit

The Times commented that the piece admirably translated the spirit of the original poems, but warned, "If the Ballet is going to laugh at itself so freely, it must take care in future that we do not laugh at it in the wrong place." The paper did not consider Façade the highlight of the quintuple bill in which it appeared: that honour went to "Mme Karsavina's Valse Fantasie with music by Glinka".[8] The Manchester Guardian also rated Karsavina's dance as the best thing in the evening, but praised the wit of Ashton's ballet, and singled out Lopokova for the subtlety of her comic performance.[3][n 2]

Reviewing a 2005 production by Scottish Ballet, The Times called Ashton's ballet a masterpiece, and The Guardian commented, "The big treat is the company's acquisition of Frederick Ashton's Façade, a perennial audience favourite. This frothy Bright Young Things frolic, dating from 1931, captures the high spirits of the Brideshead world in sparklingly playful comedic vignettes."[9]


The ballet was revived in 1932 at the Savoy Theatre.[10] For a new production by the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1935, Ashton added the Country Dance. Among those appearing in this production were Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann.[7] Ashton further expanded the work in 1940, adding the Foxtrot ("Old Sir Faulk") and the Noche espagnola ("Nocturne péruvienne"). The three later additions were sometimes included and sometimes omitted from the Sadler's Wells (later the Royal Ballet) revivals in 1946, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1956 and 1958–9.[7]

In 1972 Ashton prepared a production for the Aldeburgh Festival using the original chamber score with Sitwell's verses recited by Peter Pears. This production was later seen in London, at Sadler's Wells Theatre.[6][n 3]

Among the revivals of Ashton's ballet have been those by the Borovansky Ballet (1946), New Zealand Ballet (1960), PACT Ballet (South Africa, 1966), Joffrey Ballet (1969), Australian Ballet (1972), Chicago Ballet (1975), Houston Ballet (1978), Washington Ballet (1983), Royal Winnipeg Ballet (1984), Ballet of the Teatro Regio, Turin (1992) and Scottish Ballet (2005).[7]

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ There were four other items in the programme, two of which were by Ashton (Mars and Venus and "Follow Your Saint": The Passionate Pavane), one by Tamara Karsavina, and one by Ninette de ValoisLa création du monde.[3]
  2. ^ Karsavina was partnered by Ashton, whose dancing both The Times and The Manchester Guardian singled out for particular praise.
  3. ^ This was part of a seventieth birthday tribute to Walton arranged by Benjamin Britten and Pears. For the same event Ashton created a new ballet from Walton's Siesta. When Walton had first adapted the music of the original Façade entertainment into full orchestral versions in the 1920s and 30s, he partly rewrote and expanded some numbers, notably the Tarantella, doubled in length. Using the original Sitwell/Walton text required Ashton to rechoreograph accordingly to fit the reduced length of the music.[11]
  1. ^ Kennedy, pp. 29–31
  2. ^ Kennedy, p. 62
  3. ^ a b "Camargo Society: Third Production of Ballet", The Manchester Guardian, 27 April 1931, p. 13
  4. ^ Palmer, Christopher. "Façade. Ballet suite". Hyperion Records, 1990, accessed 2 April 2013
  5. ^ Craine, Debra and Judith Mackrell. "Façade", The Oxford Dictionary of Dance, Oxford University Press, accessed 2 April 2013
  6. ^ a b Kennedy, p. 291
  7. ^ a b c d Vaughan, David. "Frederick Ashton and His Ballets, 1931" Archived 4 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Ashton Archive, accessed 2 April 2013
  8. ^ "The Camargo Society", The Times 27 April 1931, p. 10
  9. ^ Robertson Allen. "Scottish Ballet", The Times, 20 April 2005; and Bain, Alice. "Dance: Scottish Ballet", The Guardian, 16 April 2005
  10. ^ "The Ballet Season at the Savoy Theatre", The Manchester Guardian, 22 June 1932, p. 7
  11. ^ Kennedy, p. 254


  • Kennedy, Michael (1989). Portrait of Walton. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816705-9.