Press Story

18 Dec 2023
Credit: John Ashford in Enya Belak's documentary 'Aerowaves at 25' 2022

We are deeply saddened to learn that John Ashford, former Director of The Place theatre and founding director of Aerowaves, has died peacefully in London on 17 December after a short illness.

As Director of The Place Theatre from 1986-2009, and Director of Aerowaves (1996 - 2022) he promoted artists' careers in the UK, Europe and beyond. He also encouraged the development of criticism as part of the culture in which dance grows, and in later years became particularly interested in documenting dance through virtual reality.

In recognition of his influence, innovation and commitment, he received the 'Lifetime Achievement Award' at the Critics' Circle National Dance Awards in 2022, where he spoke of being "of service to and through dance."

He will be greatly missed by the entire dance community.

Eddie Nixon, Artistic Director of The Place, says:

In 2009, when John left The Place after two decades as Director of the Theatre, in a short farewell speech I described him as ‘devoted and disobedient in equal measures’. He liked that assessment. In fact, in a card to me later, he asked me to ‘dig that up when they dig me down’.

I’m keeping that promise.

John is one of the most influential people in UK and European Dance over the last 35 years. He has certainly been a maverick, an utterly original thinker, a serial ‘starter’ of big ideas and an unquenchable energy.

Whilst at The Place, he transformed contemporary dance in the UK. His drive led to associate artist schemes, artist development programmes, video archives, resident artists, artist residencies, commissions and national dance platforms. The international performance programmes he built at The Place brought a generation of iconic artists – Rosas, Ultima Vez, Rui Horta – to London for the first time. He convinced Bloomberg to sponsor The Place Prize, which over 10 years was the largest choreography competition ever held in the UK. His endless enthusiasm for supporting young choreographers also created Resolution, a festival of new choreography which is still running after 30 years.

But it was Aerowaves that was John’s favourite child. I am proud to have been part of this project from when I began working with John at The Place in 2005 until the present. Hundreds of artists, and hundreds of thousands of audiences across the continent have shared the journey and wonder of his work.

As a boss, a mentor and a colleague he was gloriously unpredictable, full of challenge and overwhelmingly generous. Following in the footsteps of an icon can be overwhelming. When John passed me the responsibility of leading The Place (‘the best job in dance’, he called it) he did so with a very deliberate lack of interfering advice. He was completely empowering.

The last time I saw John, he told me to never retire. That work was the way to keep healthy. He was a phenomenal human being.

Clare Connor, Chief executive of The Place, says:

It is hard to not think of John Ashford and The Place – they were symbiotically and inextricably linked for many years.

John was a titan in the movement of contemporary dance in the UK - an architect, producer, presenter, concept-developer, a disruptor - but he was also a beloved friend to many.

He irreversibly altered the landscape of dance at The Place, he captured the pioneering spirit of the founders and propelled the organisation forward through his endearing relationships with artists, through the dedicated space of the Robin Howard Dance Theatre and via the European and international networks he helped nurture.

More recently, with the support of writer Josephine Leask, my colleagues and I tried to capture – in short form – the people who have shaped the destiny of dance at The Place, and what I learned is that it is not possible to do justice to them all. John is a central part of that collective story, the journey, and someone whose vision has and continues to impact the lives of dance artists, not just in the UK but around the world.

John leaves an indelible mark in our hearts, minds and in the bodies of makers and performers of dance but also of producers and programmers worldwide.

His influence and the incredible legacy will live on in our timely festival 'Resolution' – the UK biggest festival of new choreography.

John occupied a very special place in the dance universe, uniquely owning a capacity to believe and imagine an exciting future without fear… a place where dance artists discovered a sense of belonging… in a world with more dance.

We will miss you John.

Farooq Chaudhry OBE

I’m absolutely devastated and heartbroken to hear this news! John was one of the few great visionaries who made our world of dance a better place. Tireless in his devotion and mischievous in his enthusiasm and passion but always magnanimous in his generosity and compassion. He will be sorely missed. I owe him a great deal and for that I will be eternally grateful. RIP dear John. We loved you dearly!

Ioannis Lyras

There can be no doubt that John's passing is a great loss for the dance world in the UK and internationally. He was always a pioneer and one of that rare breed who can, not only realise their visions, but make them sustainable too.
Aerowaves bears witness to this most exceptionally and makes John's loss that much greater. I do not think there have been many times where the need to support new artists and buck the mainstream has been more necessary. He was a champion in this respect.
May he rest in peace and may his inspiring legacy live on.

Carol Brown

John was a powerful advocate for the choreographic imagery and those who embodied it. I am forever grateful for his support in inviting me to be an Associate Artist and then Choreographer in Residence at The Place 1997-1999. Deepest condolences to all at The Place, his friends and family.

Yael Flexer

How terribly sad, he was such a wonderful optimistic, knowledgable and funny man, with a real passion for dance and a joy to work with. I owe him so much personally. Thank you John for all you have done for dance, you will be surely missed. Condolences to all his loved ones and all at The Place.

Sasha Roubicek

So much of the contemporary dance landscape evolved due to his support, guidance and drive. A true visionary and a total legend. A huge loss to all of us in the dance world and my thoughts are with his wife and family.

Bernard Baumgarten

Dear John, we will miss you. The dance world will miss you. Your limitless commitment was an example to all of us. Rest in peace.

Carolyn Deby

John, you were such a joyous force for creative good in the world. Thank you for everything you did, everything you dreamed and made happen. A towering, wonderful human.

Dolly Henry MBE

Such a beautiful man was John and he will be sorely missed by many of us in the dance community and beyond. A beautiful tribute for a beautiful human spirit who lived the dance and shared the love for those of us that dance. RIHP dear John your legacy will live on.

Lea Anderson MBE

How great that I knew John! How supportive and wonderful he was!

Lost Dog Dance

Heartfelt condolences. Everyone who encountered John saw how incredibly passionate he was about dance. He will be missed.

Pavilion Dance South West

So sad to hear this - a wonderful legacy for contemporary dance. Sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Anthony Browne

A true Great of European Dance and a lovely human being.

Sanjoy Roy

If history is typically remembered by its headline makers, John worked at the other end: at the entry point. He saw value not only in the few who achieved public recognition, but in the sea of others who did not. “I stand by them too,” he once said. “Every ripple changes the beach.”

Ása Richardsdóttir

John´s fierce passion for the improvement of condition for dance and its artists was an inspiration to many. His willingness to engage in dialogue about dance and its magic across the globe was unmatched.

His reasons as best described by his own words in the Aerowaves documentary by Enya Belak: WHY DANCE?

“Because dance is the poetry of theatre. Because dancers are the most modest of magnificent artists. Because the integrity of dance is so rarely compromised.”

Jason Piper

Dear John,

What a pleasure to have known, disagreed, laughed and worked with you. As an LCDS student, then a young professional, you were courteous and engaged and never too lofty to have a debate about the arts - a world you dedicated your life to.

You lived a life aligned with your values and backed that up with actions that were authentic and rarely universally popular. I think I’m still working toward that level of bravery 25 years later! I’m certain that authenticity, integrity, passion and persistence lives on, in some small way, with everyone you have worked with. An unrivalled legacy and you were every bit as creative as those you promoted.

If you would like to connect with us and share your memories of John please get in touch with