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TV Preview: BBC Ballet Season | Dance reviews, news & interviews

TV Preview: BBC Ballet Season

Archive footage of Margot Fonteyn among the highlights of a week of ballet programmes

Watch Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director and Lead Principal of English National Ballet, preparing to perform the role of Odette/Odile in Good Swan, Bad Swan, airing Sunday 9 March on BBC 4.© BBC. Photo by Arnaud Stephenson.

Do four programmes constitute a season?  Let's not quibble too much; though brief, the ballet season airing on BBC2 and BBC4 this week has some appealing offerings. Judging from the strong focus on famous names (Fonteyn, Bussell) and the best known Tchaikovsky ballets, the Beeb is aiming at a broad general audience, but balletomanes will be happy to see several eminent dancers crop up as talking heads, as well as lots of lovely footage of both contemporary and historic performances.

Reflecting perhaps a new confidence in the marketability of ballet, the season gets a primetime kickoff tonight with Darcey's Ballerina Heroines on BBC2, in which the eponymous former Royal Ballet principal takes us on a whistle-stop tour of ballet history as represented by elite female dancers from Taglioni to Pavlova, Ulanova and Fonteyn. The title conjures up visions of Dorling Kindersley photobooks, but contributions from ballet historian Jennifer Homans and plenty of interesting archive footage should lift this above the level of a primary school class.  On Wednesday, David Bintley (perhaps less well known to the general public than the Ubiquitous Bussell, but no less a national treasure) will explore the origins of Britain's national ballet tradition in the Second World War (another eternally bankable cultural phenomenon, it seems). Dancing in the Blitz (BBC4) will feature more archive footage, as well ex-dancers recalling the hardships of performing in wartime ("the 10 o'clock morning class was like a roll-call to see if everyone was still alive!")

Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in The Sleeping Beauty (1959)Margot Fonteyn, a major character in both Bussell and Bintley's programmes, gets her own star billing next Friday in Fonteyn '59, an archive film of a Sleeping Beauty performance from 1959 in which Fonteyn dances Princess Aurora (pictured right).  As the Royal Ballet - of which Fonteyn is still considered prima ballerina assoluta - perform their heritage version of The Sleeping Beauty this month, this historic footage will give the ballet lovers of Britain a chance to see in action the Aurora interpreter who established the tradition in which ballerinas at Covent Garden still move.  

The season is brought to a close by another tremendous ballerina, Tamara Rojo, who allowed cameras to accompany her as she prepared to dance Odette/Odile in Derek Deane's Swan Lake in-the-round.  Viewers might remember Deane, and this production, from 2011's The Agony and the Ecstasy (BBC4), in which his sarcastic derogation of Daria Klimentova made compelling, if discomfiting, viewing.  Given that Rojo is Artistic Director of English National Ballet, as well as a lead principal, Deane ought to have his claws firmly retracted in next Sunday's Good Swan/Bad Swan (BBC4): expect instead the delightful, gracious Rojo herself as guide to the artistic and technical challenges of the dual role.

  • The BBC's Ballet Season starts tonight with Darcey's Ballerina Heroines on BBC2.

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