Sound of Dance | Six of the best dances

Katie Derham picks her six favourite works of classical dance music...

Sound of Dance | Six of the best dances
Katie Derham (c) BBC Ray Burmiston

In my new BBC Radio 3 programme Sound of Dance, I look at the myriad different relationships between dance and music. Over six episodes, I’ll be speaking to leading dancers, choreographers, musicians and composers about the hugely varied language of dance music, and how it inspires movement. Dance forms covered will range from ballet to tango and Syrian dance.

Ahead of the series start, here’s my selection of a few pieces that demonstrate the amazing breadth of music written for dance, from the revolutionary, to the incredibly well known - and a few of my favourites too. 


The Rite of Spring - Stravinsky

The 1914 premiere of The Rite of Spring sparked riots across Europe. It was unlike anything heard before, from its blazing cross-rhythms to the persistant, hair-raising dissonances. It was obvious fro the first tortured bassoon entry that the ballet had abandoned conventional expressivity, and was exploring unchartered territory.

• Read more: The Riot of Spring - 6 outrageous performances


Libertango - Piazzolla

60 years later, Piazzolla started a different kind of revolution with his Nuevo Tango piece, Libertango. The relentless syncopation, the heights of tension and angst, and the languishing expressivity combine to create a piece that is vibrating with energy.


Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy - Tchaikovsky


The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a Christmas favourite famed for its exquisite delicacy. The music reflects the slow falling snow of winter, and has a light daintiness that the belies the dark, smooth undertones of the piece.

• Read more: Discover the sound of the Sugar Plum Fairy

• Dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy


Blue Danube - J Strauss II

J Strauss II's The Blue Danube is a landmark among waltzes. The slow build up of material culminates in the lilting strength of the iconic theme with its full, expressive movement. Love it or hate it, The Blue Danube is a giant of the ballet world.


Dance of the Knights from Romeo & Juliet - Prokofiev

Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights is a piece of arrogant strength. The slow, booming beat combined with the glory of the lower brass shows off the true ornate Russianess of the piece: the tension brought about by dark, sophisticated writing.


Aquarela do Brasil - Barroso

Barroso’s Aquarela do Brasil is the essence of South American music. The sweeping lines and jazzy percussion give a salon-feel combined with the sashaying skirts of the carnival.  Porter’s Night and Day (below) has a similar, more restrained feel – less of excitement and more of love.


Night & Day - Cole Porter

Katie Derham presents Sound of Dance on BBC Radio 3, Saturdays 3-4pm from 3rd June. Find out more here.

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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