Sir Frederick Ashton was born on September 17, 1904, in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
After studying dance in London under Léonide Massine, Nicholas Legat, and Marie Rambert, he joined the Vic-Wells (later the Sadler's Wells and then the Royal) Ballet in 1933 and distinguished himself as a mime and character dancer in such roles as Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty and the gigolo in Façade and as the versatile choreographer of ballets that include Cinderella, Sylvia, and Daphnis and Chloeand the film Tales of Hoffmann (1951). He was the Royal Ballet's principal choreographer from 1933 to 1970, during which time he also served as its Associate Director (1952 to 1963) and its Director (1963 to 1970). Ashton was a key figure in the development of the London Royal Ballet and was involved with it from the beginning. From 1963 to 1970, he worked as the artistic director there and oversaw the performances of such illustrious dancers as Fonteyn and Nureyev, and helped elevate the Royal Ballet into one of the world's premiere dance companies.
In 1970 he retired from his administrative position in order to devote his time exclusively to choreography.
Ashton was knighted in 1962. He died on August 18, 1988, in Sussex, England.