From Our Artistic Director: What's a Bolero and Why's it so Famous?

Our show this Saturday is Bolero.  It’s performed by a fabulous Spanish dance duo led by Jesus Rubio Gamo.  The music is from the French composer Ravel’s famous Bolero – which most people will probably recognise.  But what is a bolero – and why is it so famous?

Jesus Rubio Gamo

Jesus is a dancer and choreographer from Madrid. His shows have been presented at festivals across Spain and Europe, as well as in places like museums and, of course, outdoors.


He studied contemporary dance in Spain and then won an award to pursue advanced studies in a foreign country. He chose to come here to the UK and studied at the London Contemporary Dance School. He is now based back in Madrid but happy to be coming back for a visit to London!

One of his most successful shows is Bolero.

So what’s a Bolero?

The Bolero is a traditional Spanish dance dating back to the late 1700s. It is all about love and romance and is quite slow and sensuous. The dancers, individually or together, produce brilliant and intricate movements to the rhythmic accompaniment of their castanets.

The dance also has influences from Spanish bull-fighting and the lead dancer often mimics the movements of the toreador in the bullfight; whilst the other dancer’s movements often suggest the matador's cape or even sometimes the bull! And like a bullfight, the bolero dance has a certain grace and athleticism but is also teeming with dramatic tension!

Why is the Bolero so famous?

The most famous Bolero music ever composed is by Maurice Ravel, a French composer working in the early 1900s. Ravel’s Bolero is built on a single repeated rhythm played on a snare drum – Ta, Tatata Ta, TatataTatatatatata Ta.

The melody that goes with this rhythm starts incredibly quietly and is repeated, over and over, getting louder and louder, until the whole orchestra is playing by the very end – ‘fortissimo possible’ or as loudly as possible!

If you don’t recognise it from this description, I’m sure you will know it immediately when you hear it! According to, Ravel’s Bolero is one of the most frequently-played pieces of classical music and every 15 minutes, somewhere in the world, a performance begins. Given that the piece lasts 17 minutes, this music is being played constantly, somewhere in the world!

As well as in concerts and live performances, Ravel’s Bolero often appears as the background music in TV programmes and in films. Memorably, it was used by the British ice skaters, Torvill and Dean, for their gold medal-winning performance at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984, watched by a television audience of 24 million people. And because of this, it has become the music for the final remaining competitors on each series of Dancing on Ice.

Surprisingly, despite this being one of the most popular pieces of music ever written, the composer, Ravel, really hated it! He thought it was basic, that it was one of his least important pieces and that any competent music student could have written it.

But everyone else loves it! The structure and build through the piece is mesmerising. And it works so well for the show we will see on Saturday.

Jesus Rubio Gamo’s Bolero

Jesus says his work has a pattern which ‘combines mathematical structures with sensorial intensity’. He tries to create ‘formal architectures of the body that allow emotion to burst out’.

You will see on Saturday that the piece has an extraordinary intensity and like Ravel’s music, builds and builds throughout. There is increasingly a fine line between pleasure and exhaustion. By the end, the dancers are at the limits of their endurance, at the point of breaking – like the orchestra playing as loudly as it possibly can! But there is a determination - almost a desperation - to keep going!

Come and see Jesus Rubio Gamo’s Bolero on Saturday, 17 August 2019. It is on at 1.00 pm and again at 3.00 pm.

Let us know what you think using the hashtag #bellsquareldn

You can find out more at the artist’s website,

And follow him on Facebook and Instagram @jesusrubiogamo