Ravel was a progressive orchestrator, and included parts for sopranino, soprano and tenor sax in his original score. (The sopranino part is often transcribed for soprano nowadays.) This arrangement takes Ravel's vision to its logical conclusion (or so saxophonists would argue) and allocates the rest of the orchestra to the remainder of the sax family, with tenors performing a vital role as side drum substitutes.
Commissioned by Ida Rubinstein, the choreographed 1928 premiere saw her take the role of the table-top gipsy dancer who gradually captivates four men with her mesmerizing display. The first concert performance took place in 1930, but the lure of the obsessive Bolero rhythm still holds sway (as Torville and Dean can attest), and players should always aim for a sense of theatre in their performances.
An expanded version of this ensemble format is regularly staged by the National Saxophone Choir of Great Britain, using movement and lighting to heighten the sense of drama.
Nigel Wood's original arrangement of 'Bolero' was for quartet, and is recorded on Saxtet's 'Montage' CD.