Ballet, Contemporary, Flamenco and Latin in Danceworks from the BBC

BBC Four
May 25-28, 2020

Róisín O’Brien

In the second season of Danceworks from the BBC, each episode follows an artist from their initial ideas and rehearsals, delves into their backstories, and arrives at the theatre: the show must go on.

In Firedance: Latin Fever, we are introduced to two of Strictly’s regular performers: Karen Hauer and Gorka Marquez. Fusing Latin and pop, the focus of Firedance is what they as performers want to express (rather than explicitly focusing on a narrative or theme).

Latin dance is something I am no expert in, though I love hearing about the different dances, each with their own specific rhythms and moves. Both dancers have backgrounds in competitive dancing. What is surprising (or perhaps not) is that Hauer also trained at the Martha Graham school: footage from the school shows women in leotards bending almost stoically, though not rigidly, at the hips, a complete contrast to the quick footwork and flamboyant displays we see in her partnering with Marquez.

Gorka Marquez and Karen Hauer in rehearsal for their Firedance tourPhoto Andy Dunn
Gorka Marquez and Karen Hauer
in rehearsal for their Firedance tour
Photo Andy Dunn

The episode is interesting when we zone in on the rehearsals but there is not a lot of in-depth focus on the choreography or the end show, a contrast to their usual spotlights in Strictly.

Firedance at least got a performance before theatres went dark as shows were cancelled. The good news is that plans are being made to restage the tour in 2021 and that details should be available soon on

South African dancer and choreographer Mthuthuzeli November’s new The Waiting Game for Ballet Black didn’t quite make it to the stage before events took over, although I’m sure it will make it when companies are able to perform again. Maggie Foyer looks at the Danceworks programme that covers the creation of the work and explores the work of Ballet Black’s artistic director Cassa Pancho here.

María PagésPhoto David Ruano
María Pagés
Photo David Ruano

A contrast to the flash of Firedance, the most enjoyable of the three films I watch focuses on flamenco dancer María Pagés. Tall with long flowing hair, her arm movements are almost scratchy and impassioned on top of her percussive footwork. She discusses the different receptions of her work, with some embracing her innovations and others wanting flamenco to remain rooted in its traditions. Seville is the heart of flamenco tradition, and it is there that Pagés presents her new work, Una Oda al Tiempo (An Ode to Time).

The piece is co-created with her husband El Arbi El Harti, a playwright and co-director of their company. Responding to these dark times (similar to ‘pre-war’ eras, they feel), they look to authoritarian regimes and populism. Pagés chooses to transcribe the rhythm of one of Hitler’s speeches: the musical result is played through a walking stick that Pagés taps insistently at the back of the stage in front of her dancers.

During the performance, I’m struck by the dancers wearing mics to amplify their corralling of each other. Audio input from dancers within contemporary dance, for instance, can sometimes add dramatic tension or can feel like an unnecessary, often untrained, add-on. Here, the dancers’ cries are every bit as part of the performance as the movement.

Sharon Eyal and L-E-V Dance Company rehearse in Tel AvivPhoto Andy Dunn
Sharon Eyal and L-E-V Dance Company rehearse in Tel Aviv
Photo Andy Dunn

The final episode I watch is Sharon Eyal: A Basic Instinct. I’ve not yet ‘gotten’ Eyal’s work, though I have only seen two of her pieces. I am not affronted by it – I can see why people like it, I can see why it gets programmed. Certainly one way to draw in a non-dance but art-savvy audience is through something that is WEIRD and Eyal definitely captures that vibe. Bobbing her head as the dancers convulse in front of her, Eyal epitomizes something of the off-kilter artist.

But I’ve never been caught up in it. The music is always encompassing, and the film’s exploration of Eyal’s involvement in the underground techno rave scene in Tel Aviv provides an interesting backstory of collaboration that shapes her work. Seeing her choreography up close in a Peckham car park, the performance the episode focuses on, seems to make more sense than the officious distance between audience and stage in an opera house. An experience to seek out in the future once we’re able to get up close and personal, just like Eyal wants.

The four Danceworks programmes are available on BBC iPlayer (UK only) until May 2021.