Programs about dance are not exactly daily fare on television. But in that odd way that scarce things have of bunching up on us, tonight you can just about overdose on the subject. Channel 26 is airing a pair of programs back-to-back: "Ballerinas: Dances by Peter Martins," launching a new season of the noteworthy PBS "Dance in America" series, from 10 to 11 p.m.; and the 30-minute "On Dancing Isadora's Dances," featuring Anabelle Gamson, starting at 11. Meanwhile, Maryland Public Television will air "Makarova Returns," a 60-minute show about the return of Natalia Makarova to the Soviet Union 19 years after her defection to the West, in the same time slot as the "Ballerinas" program.

The first two of these are the ones I was able to view in advance, and both offer powerful inducements to any lover of the art. If it has nothing else, "Ballerinas" affords privileged views of five of the New York City Ballet's most accomplished female principals, which is to say, five of the era's top echelon of ballerinadom -- Merrill Ashley, Suzanne Farrell, Patricia McBride, Kyra Nichols and Heather Watts. All of them were proteges of George Balanchine, and the two eldest -- Farrell and McBride -- are now in retirement, which makes viewing these historic performances even more compelling.

In fact, "Ballerinas" has much else going for it. Despite the title, male dancers figure prominently as well, including Adam Luders, Jock Soto, Ib Anderson and Peter Martins himself -- the program's featured choreographer, the successor to Balanchine as artistic director of NYCB and once one of its most illustrious performers. Here again, two of these artists -- Anderson and Martins -- are retired, adding to the show's privilege.

Martins's choreography varies considerably in both mode and quality through these pieces. The segments featuring Nichols and Luders, McBride and Anderson, and Farrell and Martins are the ones most flattering both to the choreographer and the dancers. And for all his stature, which he owes both to his position and talent, Martins seems to have been accorded a disproportionately large share of the "Dance in America" spoils -- "Ballerinas" is the fifth series program devoted entirely or in large measure to his work. Given the multitude of treasurable dancers and genres the series has yet to embrace, this does seem excessive.

Keep tuned for "On Dancing Isadora's Dances," though, in any case. It is an exemplary program in every respect, and a profoundly affecting one, given the depth of Gamson's artistry and the way it is captured herein. The pianism of Garrick Ohlsson, in a major portion of the program, is a further blessing. So is Gamson's warmly insightful voice-over commentary. Isadora Duncan's dances, she tells us, were made from "a language of movement that we use every day {such as} running, skipping, walking, jumping, twirling ... the art is in the transformation of the daily into the sublime." The very same could be said of Gamson's highly personal realizations of the Duncan heritage, in performances remarkable for their flow, nuance, power and passion.