Sir Frederick Ashton, one of the world's greatest ballet choreographers, died in his sleep, the Royal Opera House announced Friday. He was 83.

Ashton, awarded a knighthood in 1962 for his work, died Thursday night at his country house in the Suffolk region, northeast of London, said Margaret Skeet, a spokeswoman of the Opera House, parent company to the Royal Ballet.

No cause of death was given.

"Nobody could create a more touchingly tender love duet than he," said a news release issued by the Royal Ballet, with which Ashton worked for more than two decades, including seven years as director ending in 1970.

"But there is something Shakespearean about the way he could move within a single work from sweet lyricism to knockabout comedy or delicately barbed wit," it said.

His creations ranged from the ballet-comedy "A Wedding Bouquet" to "Cinderella" in 1948, the first three-act ballet created for a British company. He also created dances for operas, films, musical comedies and revues.

Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1904 to British parents, he grew up in Peru. After seeing Anna Pavlova perform in Lima in 1917, he fell in love with ballet and wanted to become a dancer.

But he wasn't able to begin studying the art until years later, when he took up ballet classes against his family's wishes after his graduation from an English private school.

His first commission was for a small ballet called "A Tragedy of Fashion," created for a revue in 1926. In 1931, he did his first work for Dame Ninette de Valois, beginning a longtime working relationship with her and the company she fostered that grew into the Royal Ballet. They drew inspiration from English painters and music for a style marked by "poise, purity, (and) freshness," the Royal Ballet statement said. His best-known ballets include "Romeo and Juliet," "Ondine," "Marguerite and Armand," and "Daphnis and Chloe." Asked once what was the inspiration, he told The Times of London: "I don't know . . . I am fairly religious. I rather put myself in the hands of a superior power. . . . I am almost like a wireless (radio)."

He was unmarried.


_ French opera director and set designer Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, 56, in Munich. Ponnelle worked as a set designer and director at the Paris Opera, collaborating with some of the biggest names in music, including Herbert von Karajan, Karl Boehm, Claudio Abbado, Seiji Ozawa and Daniel Barenbohm.

Ponnelle was scheduled to supervise the staging of "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Moses und Aron" at the Salzburg Festival, where he had worked for 20 years, but he was forced to cut short his participation this year, according to the festival's press office. His last Paris production was Mozart's "The Magic Flute" performed at the Champs Elysee Theatre.

_ Cellist Andre Navarra, 77, in Siena, Italy.

_ Portuguese composer/conductor Jose Manuel Braga Santos, 64, in Lisbon.