Julio Bocca is one of the twentieth century’s most important ballet dancers and an Argentine national treasure.
Julio Bocca in NYC
A tribute to Argentine dance legend Julio Bocca is a special part of this year’s Youth America Grand Prix at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center Friday, April 14, 2017 at 7:30pm.
Featured artists include:
– Luciana Paris & Marcelo Gomes of ABT
– Maria Riccetto of Uruguay’s Ballet Nacional SODRE
– Marlon Dino & Lucia Lacarra of the Bavarian State Ballet
– Cesar Corrales & Tamara Rojo of the English National Ballet
– International tango stars Hernan Piquin & Cecilia Figaredo
– Manuel Legris of Danseur Étoile, Paris Opera Ballet
– Tiler Peck & Joaquin De Luz of New York City Ballet
New York Latin Culture readers save 20% with discount code Julio50
An Interview with Julio Bocca
Julio was kind enough to be interviewed by Ximena Ojeda in English.
XIMENA: Let’s talk about the present since your retirement. You retired in 2007.
BOCCA: Yes that was my last performance.
XIMENA: Then you moved to Montevideo, Uruguay. What happened during your first two years in Montevideo?
BOCCA: That two years was actually doing nothing. It was something I really needed after a 27 year career. I just needed to be quiet and relax, to find myself again. I never had the chance to be in one place for more than three months. So I needed that.
When I did my last performance in Buenos Aires, I went on holiday in Uruguay. There I found my partner, so I moved there. For a year and a half I was doing nothing. Really nothing. Just being home, walking on the beach, going to the supermarket, cooking. You know, being completely out of the dance world.
After a year and a half, I was feeling like I’m still young and I wanted to continue to help dancers from Latin America make it. That’s when I went back to Ballet. I started going to the Moscow competition and then I taught in Prague.
In that period, the president of Uruguay invited me to a meeting and asked if I wanted to be director of the national ballet in Uruguay. So I though, “Why not?” It’s a big opportunity. I know the company there.
XIMENA: How was the SODRE company?
BOCCA: It was not in very good shape. It was a big challenge to me. So I told him that I would do it, but in the way I want to work, with my rules. I didn’t want to come and direct a national company with a lot of bureaucracy.
XIMENA: What changes did you make?
BOCCA: The Uruguayan Ballet Nacional SODRE and the company of Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires are the oldest Ballet companies in all America. From Canada to Argentina, they are the oldest. For many years the company was not supported by the government or its audience. The company was doing maybe 15 performances a year with five or ten people in the audience.
When I took over the company, I said to the dancers, “This is the way we are going to work.” Before you got into the company and stayed there for life. So in the beginning there were not many dancers who were still really dancing. I did an audition and changed things completely. Now everybody has a year contract.
Suddenly, we went from 15-20 performances, to 90. We do 12-14 performances of each program. We sell between 18-21,000 tickets. Montevideo has just over 1 million people, so it’s a lot. Now the National Ballet is like a soccer team. People are proud. The government helps and we have sponsors.
It made me happy to be back in the Ballet world. There is no other company like this that gives a chance to young dancers from Latin America and around the world. I’ve been the Director there for seven years now.
It was a big change. We now have a national tour and an international tour. We have a big repertory. Now we’re working together with a Chilean company, Municipal. It’s the best Ballet company in South America.
These two major companies are both working in he modern way with yearly contracts for the dancers.
XIMENA: How is your audition process?
BOCCA: I have auditions every year in October. Dancers come from all over the world. I do classes of Classical, Contemporary, and Partnering. Some dancers send me a link that I can watch online. Latin America is very big. Buying a ticket for an audition can be too expensive.
This year I did an audition in Madrid for Europe when we were there in January with the company. That’s the way we do auditions now.
Another big change came about because in 1971 there was a big fire in the theater. It took until 2009 to rebuild the theater again. But now we have a beautiful auditorium that has two thousand seats and great acoustics. We have studios and dressing rooms. We prepare our sets and costumes there in the theater. I built this beautiful theater so people can work and Ballet culture can grow. That’s very important for me.
XIMENA: What is the Uruguayan audience like?
BOCCA: They are very Latin. They are not excited and almost crazy like in Argentina, but they really love it. They are proud to see the same level and quality of performance you can see in the Paris Opera. To have that in Montevideo is special. They don’t have to go to the United States or Europe to see a good Ballet company. So they are very proud and enthusiastic about the work that we’ve been doing.
XIMENA: Does SODRE have multicultural dancers?
BOCCA: Yes, we are about 40% Uruguayan. We established a national school two years ago, so we are getting better dancers. The idea is to have 75-80% Uruguayan dancers and the rest from around the world. Right now I have dancers from Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Korea, Spain, Italy, and England, so it’s a big mix. They are between 18-26 years old. We have all the flavors. We want to give Latin dancers the opportunity to do what they love to do.
We are a professional company. We start our season on February 1st and end on December 30. We have repertory from all the classical artists and choreographers like MacMillan, Cranko, Jiri Kylian, Forsythe, Tudor, Balanchine, Nacho Duato, some Uruguayan choreographers, and Argentinian choreographers.
XIMENA: What is your repertory this year?
BOCCA: We just finished a Russian “Hamlet” from Boris Eifman. This is the second time we did it. We are going to do “Don Q,” “Romeo & Juliet” from MacMillan, and then “Nutcracker.” Then we have a mixed program. We do Themes and Variations from Balanchine, and two new ballets. One from Julio Montero. He’s from Spain, but has a company in Germany. He’s a very contemporary, young choreographer.
“Encuentro,” is a piece by Marina Sanchez, a soloist in the company. She’s in that transition at the end of her dancing career. She wants to be a choreographer so I am giving her the chance. This year is the 100th anniversary of “La Cumparsita.” The most famous Tango song is Uruguayan. Sanchez will create a Tango piece for this program.
This year we go to Buenos Aires with Russian “Hamlet” in May. We have a national tour in November, and also an Argentinian tour. We go to Ecuador. From there we have Tenerife, Spain and Vicenza, Italy. We are opening the dance festival in Cannes with “Don Q.” That’s the 8th of December.
After that we have “Nutcracker.” Next year we open with a new production of “Sleeping Beauty.” The choreographer is Mario Galici. He’s the new director of the National Ballet of México. The set will be Hugo Millán, an Uruguayan designer who works with us a lot.The costumes will be by Spanish fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.
XIMENA: She’s La Movida Madrileña.
BOCCA: Yes, what she already designed is amazing. It’s very colorful. I’m happy with it. After that we will do “Swan Lake,” “Merry Widow,” “Corsaire” and then we have a Spain tour and are getting close to a Chinese tour.
In the beginning of 2019, we will do a new production of “Cinderella” with the choreographer Demis Volpi. He’s the resident choreographer of the Stuttgart Ballet. He’s from Argentina. Actually he started dancing when he was very little with my mother. Then he went to my foundation school and then he went to the Ballet School of Canada. Then he went into a Toronto company. From there he became a soloist in the Stuttgart Ballet. Now he is a choreographer. I’m proud of him so I’m giving him a chance to do a new production.
We already closed 2019. We are working on 2020 and 2021. We are talking to Covent Garden 2021, and the Paris Opera and these big theaters. That’s it.
XIMENA: How do you feel about your Tribute on Friday? Are you excited?
BOCCA: Actually I arrived yesterday. In the lobby I met with Nina Ananiashvili, a great dancer and a big partner of mine, and Manuel Legris who was Etoile [Star] of the Paris Opera. We shared many performances together. They are coming to dance in the Gala for me. It was very exciting to see them. After that I went to the rooftop of the hotel. I took my glass of champagne, in front of Lincoln Center. It was like Wow. Suddenly my eyes started getting, you know, almost crying, but not yet. For me New York, the Met, and ABT are my home.
In 1986 the Ballet opened its arms. Now the Ballet is opening its arms again. To see all these great dancers coming to do an homage to myself is amazing. We were always on the same stage, gala, or dancing together. I never had the chance to see them. For the first time I get to sit and watch them dance. I was kind of emotional. I was alone. I needed that. The whole thing is unbelievable. I’m nervous because I don’t know what else is going to happen. A lot of stuff is going to be a surprise.
I’m not 80 or 90 years old, yet. I’m 50, but they are doing this now. It’s nice because I can enjoy it. It’s a big thing. I’m really emotional and excited. It’s a lot of things.
XIMENA: We’ve been talking to Luciana Paris and Herman Cornejo about their preparations. They were so connected to you in the past.
BOCCA: I gave them many opportunities. Herman Cornejo started working in my company when he was 14 or 15. We put him in the Moscow competition when he was 17. I paid for his plane ticket and he won the Gold medal. Now he’s a Principal dancer with ABT. To watch him grow up is amazing. I touched and helped many dancers, especially from Argentina. I’m proud of Luciana, Herman, and Paloma Herrera.
XIMENA: What is Paloma doing now?
BOCCA: She is the Director of the Teatro Colón. We are always on WhatsApp. I tell her to let me know if there is anything she needs. I’ve been doing this for seven years, so now I know. I remember the first time Paloma came to New York, to ABT. I started helping dancers in Argentina. Now I’m doing it in Uruguay. Before they only sold 10 or 15 tickets. Now they sell more than a football game.
It’s nice that everybody has the chance to go and see great Ballet. I always worked for this and will continue to work for it. I never understood why ABT hasn’t done a performance in Central Park. It was something I always wanted to do when I was a dancer there. We never got the chance. It’s could help to bring new people into the Ballet world.
XIMENA: Well, we look forward to seeing the Uruguayan Ballet Nacional SODRE in Central Park some day.
BOCCA: Thank you.
Julio Bocca was Born to Dance
Julio Bocca is from Munro, a town just north of Buenos Aires proper. Born in 1961, he was a child prodigy. Bocca said in a recent interview that he did his first dance on stage with a pacifier at age four.
By age seven he was admitted to the Teatro Colón’s Higher Institute of Arts. That is the most important theater in Argentina. As a teenager he soloed there.
Winning the 1985 International Ballet Competition in Moscow at age 18 gave Bocca international attention. Mikhail Baryshnikov invited him to join American Ballet Theatre where Bocca was a principal dancer for almost two decades.
The New York Times named Bocca 1987 Dancer of the Year. Performing with the world’s most important ballet companies, including the Bolshoi, made him a truly international star.
The excitement wasn’t just about Bocca’s great technique. In that Argentine way, he gave himself completely to the dance, pushing to the very edge of what is humanly possible. His charismatic style made Bocca adored by fans in the same way that Argentinos love their soccer teams. He is an Argentine national treasure.
In 1990, Bocca founded his own company “Ballet Argentino” and trained the next generation of great Argentine dancers. He also combined Ballet technique with Tango.
Bocca retired from dancing in 2007. In 2010, he became director of Uruguay’s Ballet Nacional SODRE.
A Continuing Legacy
From 1997 to 2001, Bocca’s partner at Ballet Argentino was Luciana Paris. She is now an American Ballet Theatre soloist. ABT Principal Herman Cornejo also developed his radiant technique by dancing for Bocca.
ABT’s Herman Cornejo and Luciana Paris are mezmerizing dancers. Their spark comes from Julio Bocca. Watch Herman and Luciana talk about their early experiences with the Argentine master.
This article was first published on March 16, 2017.