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Bocca, Julio: 1967—: Ballet Dancer

Julio Bocca: 1967: Ballet dancer





Since his spectacular win at the 1985 International Ballet Competition, Julio Bocca has established himself as one of the twentieth century's most renowned dancers. "There's something about his very person that attracts you," a ballet director told Dance Magazine, "not only his great technique and talent, but he dances as if his soul depended on it." He has danced with almost every major ballet company, including nearly two decades with the American Ballet Theatre in New York City. Fans say that he can defy gravity, effortlessly fly across the stage, and spin an impossible number of pirouettes all with exacting precision and unbridled passion. "Julio has a magnetism," his artistic director in New York told Dance Magazine. "He's this combination of totally controlled and on the edge." Though the ballet world may adore him, his native Argentina worships him. There he is a superstar easily selling out auditoriums normally reserved for sporting events. His company, Ballet Argentino, is considered a national treasure. Yet for Bocca, fame and fortune is not the pointthe dance is. "A good dancer learns to be a dancer," the artistic director of Ballet Argentino told Harper's Bazaar, "but Julio Bocca was born to dance."

Began Dancing at Four


Julio Bocca was born on March 6, 1967, in the small town of Munro, Argentina. Not far from Buenos Aires, Munro was a typical barriodusty, crowded, and terribly poor. His single mother, Nancy, taught ballet in a small studio at the back of the home she shared with her Italian-born parents. His father refused to acknowledge Bocca as his son and died when Bocca was in his teens. Despite this painful rebuff, Bocca was surrounded by the love of his close-knit maternal family.

Like most of their neighbors the Boccas were very poor. However, Bocca's grandfather was a firm believer in the power of the arts and worked long hours as a laborer to buy a piano for the family. His grandmother was equally committed, spending hours sewing young Bocca's first dancing outfits. Given this environment it is not surprising that Bocca began dancing at the age of four. By eight he was hooked and to his family's pleasure he announced that he wanted to be a dancer. His mother promptly enrolled him in the Instituto Superior de Arte in the magnificent Colon Theater of Buenos Aires, Argentina's premier ballet school.

At a Glance . . .


Born on March 6, 1967, in Munro, Argentina; son of Nancy Bocca ( a ballet teacher). Education: Instituto Superior de Arte, Colon Theater, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1975-85.


Career: Ballet Fundación Teresa Carreno, Caracas, Venazuela, dancer, 1982; Ballet del Teatro Municipal de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, principal dancer, 1983-84; Corps de Ballet, Colon Theater, Buenos Aires, principal dancer, 1985; American Ballet Theatre, New York, NY, principal dancer, 1986; Ballet Argentino, founder, choreographer, dancer, 1990; Actor, Tango, Sony Pictures, 1999.


Awards: Gold Medal, Fifth International Ballet Competition, Moscow, 1985.


Address: Office American Ballet Theatre, 890 Broadway, New York, NY, 10003.

The round-trip train ride to Colon school took over three hours, but Bocca didn't mind. According to Americas, "Even as a small child he adored the Colon, and he was thrilled to be part of its ballet tradition, the oldest in Latin America." He soon proved himself a natural talent. Ballerina Eleonora Cassano who trained with Bocca as a child and later joined with him in Ballet Argentino recalled being amazed by his early talent. She told Dance Magazine, "He could do things that other little boys could not." However, Bocca was shy and unsure of his talent. At 13 he began to keep a diary and wrote wistfully of dancing with Russia's famous Bolshoi Ballet. At the time he could not imagine it would ever happen.


Soared Onto the International Stage


At 14 Bocca was offered a seven-month position with the ballet company of Caracas, Venezuela. He went alone, for the first time living away from his family, making his own meals. It was difficult but he remembered thinking at the time, "I've got my own contract; I'm a man!" he told London's The Independent. More importantly, during his stint in Caracas, Bocca first started to recognize the potential of his talent. The following year he joined the Municipal Ballet of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. There he made his first major stage appearances dancing solo roles in the classic ballets La Fille Mal Gardée and The Nutcracker. In 1985 Bocca returned home, this time as a member of the Colon troupe, not a student. The Bolshoi Ballet performed at the Colon that year and its dancers were impressed by the young Bocca. According to Dance Magazine, "Soon the ballet world, where rumors travel fast, began hearing of an astonishing new Argentinean boy." Not long afterwards the rumors were proven true.

In 1985 Bocca's family scraped together the airfare to send him to Moscow to compete in the Fifth International Ballet Competition. The morning of his departure, his family of five accompanied him to the airport. When he returned the following week, his family was joined by more than 5,000 cheering fans. Bocca had won the gold medal in Moscow, becoming a national hero in the process. "The whole thing was a complete surprise to me," he told Americas. "I didn't think I could ever win an award in a country whose school, as we all know, is the best there is." He had won with a flawless performance from the renowned ballet Don Quixote. His performance the following night, however, was less stellar. "Then there was a gala for the winners, and as I started my solo I fell over," he told The Independent. "Of course I got up and continued, and thought, luckily I already have my medal and I'm not going to give it back."

Not long after his triumphant win in Moscow, Bocca received a phone call from the United States. Mikhail Baryshnikov, ballet legend and artistic director of the esteemed American Ballet Theatre (ABT), wanted Bocca to come to New York. "I accepted, of course. It's one of the best companies in the world and to join it as a principal at 19 was, for me, totally incredible," he told Americas. Though he arrived in New York City speaking no English and not knowing a soul, he soon found a home on the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House. The talent that had won him gold in Moscow captivated audiences. A review in Dance Magazine, was typical: "[Bocca is] an artist who can generate the excitement that prompts an audience to gasp, laugh in sheer amazement, and explode in an ovation." Renowned dancer Michael Owen told Harper's Bazaar that upon seeing 19-year-old Bocca dance for the first time, he thought, "He can do anything! He can fly!" However, Bocca brought more to the stage than amazing skill. He also brought an intense passion for dance and a willingness to give all of himself to the performance. "When I think about great dancers," an ABT coach told Dance Magazine, "it becomes clear to me that what the audience responds to is energy, passion, movement, and Julio has an abundance of all those things."


Danced for Argentina

Though Bocca was a principal dancer with ABT, he enjoyed a lenient contract that allowed him to perform as a guest artists with other companies. He was much in demand and thrilled audiences at La Scala in Milan, the Paris Opera, the Kirov of Saint Petersburg, the Royal Danish Ballet, and the National Ballet of Madrid. A performance with the Royal Ballet in London prompted a reviewer with Dance Magazine to rave about "his irresistible combination of passion and gallantry." He even fulfilled his teenage dream by dancing a season with the Bolshoi Ballet. Bocca also regularly performed in his beloved Argentina. Each time he arrived he was treated like a superstarhis face plastered on buses and billboards, fans clamoring for autographs, and paparazzi following his every move.

Whenever he returned, Bocca was determined to share ballet with everyone. "Most poor Argentines never saw ballet," he told Harper's Bazaar. "Ballet was for rich peoplewhat we call gente bien." Bocca resolved that by performing free shows on the wide avenues of Buenos Aires. Tens of thousands attended, millions more watched on television. Ballet, once relegated to Buenos Aires's gilded Colon Theater, was suddenly being talked about by peasants and schoolchildren, in barrooms and markets throughout the country.

In 1990 despite his busy schedule, Bocca brought together some of Argentina's most promising young dancers and formed Ballet Argentino. It was his gift to Argentina. "It is for my country's future," he told Harper's Bazaar. He is so committed to the project that he often pays out of his own pocket for the company's expenses. "I lose money all the time, but I don't care," he told Dance Magazine. His grand hope for the company was two-fold: to share ballet with Argentineans of all backgrounds and, as he told The Independent, "To show that we've got dancers in Argentina. To show we have something else besides footballers and Evita." In the decade since its inception, Ballet Argentino has done just that, wowing audiences from Australia to China to Italy, and of course, back home in Argentina. Critics have been adoring of the company's repertoire which is an eclectic mix of classical ballet, contemporary dance, and Argentina's beloved tango. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "The young Buenos Aires company is one of the most exciting in the world." Bocca built a state-of-the-art studio to house his company and at first brought in teachers from the Colon Theater. "But I found that I liked to be a real director, and to coach and teach," he explained to The Independent. When not performing with ABT, Bocca served as mentor to his young dancers who reveled in his every word and each of his precise movements.


Approached Future by Taking on Challenges


As the twentieth century turned into the twenty-first, Bocca too turned onto a new path in his life. Blame it on Broadway. In 1999 Bocca accepted the lead role in Fosse a musical celebrating the works of acclaimed Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse, whose classic works include Cabaret, Chicago, and All That Jazz. Fosse's jazzy style was a far departure from classical ballet, but it was a challenge Bocca undertook with glee. "It's always difficult to face a new technique, especially if it's such a distinctive style as Fosse's" he told Dance Magazine, "but I don't think it's impossible." He added, "I think to master the style will enhance my dancing career." What he didn't know at the time was that Fosse would also enhance his life. "Fosse helped me to be a normal person again," he told Dance Magazine. "We went out drinking after every performanceI've never been able to do that kind of thing before because it was always, like, the next morning I'd have to go to dance class." However it was more than his newfound social life that changed Bocca. Within the expressive joys of Fosse's dances, Bocca re-discovered how good it felt to just dance. In the process he finally felt that he had arrived as a dancer. "I've always worked to become better and better as a dancer, but this year I feel I can say I'm an artist," he told Dance Magazine in 2000. "Fosse was amazing for me," he continued. "I wasn't really happy before. Now, I amevery dayand I enjoy life." Audiences felt his joy too. Dance Magazine wrote, "Bocca's performances in Fosse were full of virtuosity and passionand it was clear to audiences that he was having a ball."

In a 1991 interview with Americas, Bocca was asked what his dreams for the future were. He responded, "Besides continuing to grow and do new things, I'd like to set up a Colon more like the one of the Theater's heyday. In the far future, I would like to direct, and be a maestro, in Argentina." As 2002 drew to a close, Bocca seemed to be fulfilling each of these dreams. He was still dancing for the ABT in New York, while at the same time launching another worldwide tour for Ballet Argentino. Back in his beloved homeland, he still held a position in the corps de Ballet at Colon Theater. He was also planning to debut Fosse there.

Committed as ever to his desire to bring ballet to the people of Argentina, he had begun a dance school and regularly had his youngest pupils perform for students in Argentina's public schools. Meanwhile he continued to work on his long held dream to restore the Colon Theater to its former glory. At the same time Argentina was undergoing some of its darkest days, with its economy in tatters and its future shaky at best. When asked about this during an interview with The Independent, Bocca said, "I was very proud when my country became free. And if you love it, you have to be there in good times and in bad."


Sources

Periodicals


Americas, English Edition, January/February 1991, p. 48.

Back Stage, October 27, 2000, p. 11.

Dance Magazine, March 1987; April 1996; March 2000; October 2000.

Harper's Bazaar, October 2000, p. 258.

Independent, London, England, February 18, 2002, p. 10.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 2000, p. E4.


On-line


"Julio Bocca," American Ballet Theater, www.abt.org/dancers/bocca.html (March 25, 2003).

Candace LaBalle

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