The Last Tango: Julio Bocca Bids Farewell with Bocca Tango

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Julio Bocca is bidding us farewell again, this time dancing Bocca Tango with his own company Ballet Argentino. After an emotional sendoff in June of 2006 at American Ballet Theatre, where he enjoyed rock star fame, he’s ready to end his performing career. “Forty seems like a good age to stop,“ says Julio Bocca from his hotel room in Buenos Aires. “I want to finish my career on a high level.”

Bocca began dancing at the age of five with his mother, Nancy Bocca. He continued his training at the Teatro Colón. In 1985 he won the Moscow International Ballet Competition. The following year Baryshnikov invited him to join ABT, where he flourished through a 21-year career. “For me ABT is like home, I will always feel that way. It’s an amazing company that I will always cherish. They gave me freedom and security.” His diverse career also includes a stint on Broadway in Fosse, which led to an interest in musical theater.

It’s been a long and busy life for Bocca, who managed a double career all these years while dancing at ABT and his company. He started Ballet Argentino when we was 23 because he wanted to develop Argentinian dancers. Bocca looks at it this way: “Now, I have a 17-year base with the company, and it was very rewarding to see so many dancers achieve success in their career. The dancers got a chance to travel and dance in different styles. That was the idea behind the company.” Thus far 100 dancers have passed through the company. The company’s diverse repertoire includes works by José Limon, Twyla Tharp, Martha Graham, and George Balanchine. The other idea central to the company’s mission was giving Bocca something to dance besides the usual guesting gigs.

“I had the chance to do new choreography created especially for me; it just felt more complete.” Bocca Tango’s choreographer Ana Maria Stekelman has a long history of creating work especially for Bocca. There’s lots of give and take in the process. “I love the way she works,” says Bocca. “We go into the studio, put the music on, and I start moving. She gives me a lot of freedom in the creative process. She’s a very versatile choreographer. She can tell a story and also be very abstract.”

As for the “Ultimo Tour,” show audiences will get a taste of tango and more. Bocca is fond of saying that “Tango is in my blood.” When he was growing up, the music and movement of tango was always in his world. “It is something I always kept with me.” You might say Bocca Tango takes tango to new heights. The dancers, all classically trained, may also have tango in their blood and a good bit of ballet as well.

Besides the steamy duets with Figaredo, Bocca takes some unusual partners like a table and a ladder. Regardless of who or what Bocca is dancing with, he evokes the raw brand of physicality that made him famous. Stekelman and Bocca enlisted improvisation to arrive at the final choreography, although he admits “I still like to improvise when I am dancing.” Bocca’s tango with a table exudes a sensual flavor. “It’s like I am preparing the space for a woman,” he says.

The final piece from the show, a solo for Bocca with a ladder, involves some daredevil moves and a good bit of improvisation. “I remember playing in the park when I was young. I was always playing between the steps on the equipment. I wanted the piece to have that feeling,” says Bocca, who also wants audiences to know that the ladder is not attached to the floor. So the danger level is high. “Good thing I’m not afraid of heights,” he adds.

Bocca admits the show feels like an intimate musical. “It’s very simple, with no huge sets. It’s just the artists really, the singers, dancers, and musicians.” Live music performed by Guillermo Fernandez and Viviana Vigil and Octango give the show authenticity. Much of the music is by Argentinian tango legend Astor Piazzolla. “I love his music and grew up hearing it; I even met him once while I was dancing at ABT. There is something special in Piazzolla’s music that makes you want to dance. I can listen to the same piece over and over and find something new in it.”

After 27 years as a professional dancer, now seems like the time to move into the next stage of his career, which will involve directing, coaching, overlooking his musical comedy school, and running his foundation which supports the school in Buenos Aries. (The foundation helps pay the tuition and living expenses of underprivileged children to attend his school.) Bocca plans for a good dose of down time and considerably less travel. “I want to spend some doing absolutely nothing,” jokes Bocca. “And when I am done with that, I know I will have plenty to do.” He also hopes to have more time to himself and his family. The company will continue as will his association with it. His principal dancer, Cecelia Figaredo, will become the face of the company, and a new show is already in development. It’s been a great ride and one that Bocca feels privileged to have been on.

Bocca’s time on stage will end right where it started, on an outdoor stage in Buenos Aires this December. Bocca’s spare but sizzling show feels like just the right note to end on. “I have enjoyed this show so much,” he says with a bittersweet tone in his voice. “We have such a good time.”

Society for the Performing Arts presents Julio Bocca and Ballet Argentino in Bocca Tango on November 1, at 8 pm, at Jones Hall. Call 713-277-4SPA or visit spahouston.org.

Reprinted from Artshouston.

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