Julio Bocca, who is appearing at the Joyce with his company Ballet Argentino, presents a 90-minute premiere written in the classical tango vocabulary.
The idea of a ballet dancer, albeit one at the top of his career, filling up a football stadium with adoring fans screaming their appreciation sounds implausible, but in Argentina its business as usual for dancer Julio Bocca. Not unlike his compatriot Evita Peron, Bocca realized at an early age that his success would begin and end with the people of Argentina.
Im a very simple performer dancer, Bocca explained in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires. When Im performing, I go to the theater, I listen to my music, do my warm-up 45 minutes before, makeup, change and go to the stage.
No special contract clauses stuffing the room with candles and fresh orchids?
No, no, no, the ever-practical Bocca said with a laugh.
He speaks English with an Argentine accent.
The only thing I always hope is to go to the bathroom before the show, he humbly insisted. After the dance belt, the tights, the costume, you know, its a lot to get off.
Bocca is quick to credit his mother with his successful ascent through the dance ranks.
She started training me when I was four, Bocca said. She was a dance teacher and had a studio behind our house here in Buenos Aires. She gave private lessons. I can remember playing around between the legs of the dancers and trying to dance like them, but the real training began between seven and eight when I really decided I wanted to be a dancer.
While assuring me shes not the typical caricature of the stage mother She leans against the ballet barre and talks to the other mothershes quick to point out that not only his mother, but his entire family, was quite supportive of his decision to become a dancer and theres really been no looking back. He eventually left the backyard studio to study at the Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colon in Venezuela while also dancing professionally with the Caracas Ballet Company.
In 1983, Bocca joined the Ballet del Teatro Municipal de Rio de Janeiro as a principal dancer and, in the same year, appeared with the ballet company at the Colon Theatre and with the International Ballet of Caracas. He began winning gold medals in international ballet competitions and toured the former U.S.S.R. with the Russian ballet company Novosibirsk. In 1986, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was running New Yorks American Ballet Theatre at the time, offered him a spot. By 1990, as a principal with the company, Bocca had completed exceptional performances in a variety of roles including Apollo and Don Quixote. He even picked up the nickname Don Q when a slew of injuries felled almost all the other Quixotes and Bocca danced practically every performance.
By then, Bocca had also launched his own company, Ballet Argentino, to bring Argentine talent to the world stage. There have also been film roles and in 2000 Ann Reinking paid a visit to cast Bocca as her former lover Bob Fosse in the Broadway show named for that legendary choreographer.
Maybe it was strange for someone so young to make that decision, said Bocca looking back, but it was always inside.
Bocca also has a more adventuresome side, including a stint as a pinup model.
Well, I try to do things differently than what people think a ballet dancer has to do, Bocca explained, so I did Playboy magazine with my partner. We posed naked. For Argentina, that was a big scandal just to be in Playboy, but I try to be natural, just a regular guy. A lot of people have an idea that a ballet dancer has to be in a crystal house, but I feel like its 2004. Everybody can be a dancer if you really want to and thats whats happened here. They can see that.
As for his film and stage projectsmight they suggest that ballet is simply not enough?
I love ballet, Bocca insisted. Its a very international art. The plasticity, the acting, the movement, the musicality, its all in one place. All I did was to try and make it more popular. My idea was why cant we do ballets in stadiums? So I started doing ballets outside in stadiums for 100,000 people. And they just loved it. We were doing it four times a year. The audience always wants to see something new and beautiful. But were trying smaller theaters now because I want to do something more intimate. And also, Im getting old. I cannot run that big stage anymore.
Significantly, Boccas North American success did not damage his standing with his homelands fans.
I use a lot of tango. I feel like they feel that Im close to them, he said by way of explaining his popular appeal. Im not like a star. So the people are really friendly and they like me a lot. I feel like Im one of them. Also, I won gold medals and went to A.B.T. when I was 18. Im already 22 years into my career. Ive been dancing professionally since I was 14 so its a long backdrop and the people know that. I do a lot of AIDS benefits, too.
Bocca has established a foundation that distributes money and scholarships, all while staging roughly 120 performances a year that are financed by their own ticket sales.
Its all from my package, Bocca said. My school, my foundation, its all from me. I dont have any one else.
Ballet Argentino started a three-week run at the Joyce Theater beginning July 26. The company will be premiering Boccatango, a 90-minute piece Bocca shares with six male dancers, two female dancers, an eight-piece orchestra and two singers all mixing up the classical tango vocabulary of Astor Piazzolla and Carlos Gardel with the more contemporary work of choreographer Ana Maria Stekelman. However, dont dare call the piece fusion.
Were a ballet company. We do neo-classical pieces. We just finished a season doing pieces from José Limon and Twyla Tharp. We do Martha Graham and Balanchine and, of course, we do tango. I love tango and people like to see it, said Bocca.
When pressed to be more specific about his repertorial approach, Bocca said, I always compare dancing to making loveto do sex, each time you do it, its going to be different. Even if you do it with the same person, its going to be different. Youre there and you feel that moment, but you have to really feel it inside. But Im a person that cannot do sex just for doing it. It doesnt work that way. Its the same way with the ballet. If you dont feel it, you are boring in your performance and the audience is going to be bored.
Onstage, or, to borrow his metaphor, in bed, its not something Bocca seems to sweat.