Try to imagine the scene: A warm summer night in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2007. A city park is packed by an enthusiastic crowd of more than 300,000 people. The atmosphere is electric with excitement, as the people await the arrival of a superstar.They have come to watch his final performance. The crowd roars and thousands of cameras flash when he appears.Who is this hero, this mega-star whom upwards of 300,000 adoring fans have come to see? Is it a football player, a politician or perhaps a rock star? No, it is Julio Bocca, a ballet dancer.
Born in 1967 in a poverty-stricken neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Bocca began ballet lessons at the age of four, entered the National School of Dance at the age of eight, and advanced to the Teatro Colón’s Advanced Arts Institute a year later. Evidently gifted and quite obviously driven, he joined the Chamber Ballet Company at the Colón Theater in 1981. Four years later at the age of 18, this young phenomenon won the gold medal at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow and was invited by Mikhail Baryshnikov to join the American Ballet Theater in New York City, where he almost immediately became principal dancer.As a much-in-demand guest artist at other ballet companies, Bocca has thrilled audiences around the world – at La Scala in Milan, the Paris Opera, the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg, the Cuban National Ballet, the National Ballet of Madrid, the Royal Danish Ballet, and the Royal Ballet in London.Bocca also danced a full season with the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.Bocca’s legions of fans spoke breathlessly of his ability to emotionally grab them from the stage and involve them in the dance. He was heralded as being able to “defy gravity,” to seemingly “fly across the stage,” and to perform an impossible number of pirouettes with both passion and superhuman precision.Others said that while other people learn how to be dancers, Bocca was simply born to dance.In 1990 he formed his own dance company, the Ballet Argentino, which began quickly to sell out venues usually reserved for major sporting events The company became a national treasure, cementing Bocca’s status as a South American superstar and Argentine cultural icon. Bocca danced his farewell performance with the American Ballet Theater in 2006, and his final performance as a dancer was at that legendary concert in front of 300,000 fans in Buenos Aires at the end of 2007.In 2010, the president of Uruguay invited Bocca to become artistic director of the National Ballet of Uruguay, or Ballet Nacional Sodre (BNS), in Montevideo.Now celebrating its 80th anniversary, and after five years of rejuvenation under Bocca’s stewardship, the BNS will be coming to Israel for the first time in its history to kick off the Herzliya Performing Arts Center’s 2015-16 season of dance. The BNS will also perform at Kibbutz Yagur’s Yad Lemeginim Theater and at the Performing Arts Center in Beersheba.Though this will be the first appearance of the BNS in Israel, Bocca has performed here as a dancer. “I performed three times in Israel a few years ago with my ballet company,” he says. “We performed in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem.We really loved the audiences.They were very receptive, very warm. I hope we’ll have the same reactions to the performances of the BNS. We hope they will enjoy our production.”THE PRODUCTION will consist of three ballets. The first is Without Words, a work of contemporary dance with the music of Franz Schubert, without human voice, stripped and translated into movement, evoking feelings about the eternal circle of love and death.Adagietto is next, created in 1971 by Argentine choreographer Oscar Araiz.An innovative and original combination of theatrical and poetic drama, Adagietto is performed to the music of Gustav Mahler.The final, climactic work of the program – described by Bocca as “spicy” – is the Don Quixote Suite, a new adaptation by Julio Bocca of the original choreography of Marius Petipa, with music by Ludwig Minkos, performed by 24 dancers and the orchestra. A masterpiece from 1871, it is a string of lively dance productions, performed in a bouncing, colorful, stormy South American style of ballet. Bocca explains that he has selected these works to represent a variety of forms and styles of ballet to showcase the company’s artistic versatility.Creating this kind of versatility did not come easily at first. Bocca acknowledges that transforming himself from dancer to artistic director of South America’s largest and most venerable ballet company was somewhat of a challenge. “In the beginning it was very difficult,” he recalls.“Directing a big national ballet company was very new for me. It involved a lot of administration and bureaucracy, and this was new for me. It was also difficult dealing with 69 dancers, especially the younger ones, aged 18 to 25. Some were very new and inexperienced, and I had to develop ways to train them and coach them. But I was very happy to get the opportunity to direct, and to bring my years of experience as a dancer with the American Ballet Theater and other companies to the job. I really enjoy this now.We have a lot of talent here, and I look forward to taking the company to new levels, both professional and, we might say, ‘poetic.’” WORSHIPED AS a dancer in Argentina and esteemed as artistic director of BNS – whose audiences he has almost quadrupled in size since assuming command – Julio Bocca credits much of his success to his policy of reaching out to the audience and getting people of all walks of life more deeply involved with ballet. He believes in interacting with the audience, teaching them about the production, about ballet, and most of all in trying to diminish the distance between “ordinary people” and ballet.He explains, “When I was a dancer, I tried to tell the audience that we dancers are people, like them. I wanted them to know that we did not exist in some kind of box, but actually had real everyday lives, just like them. Also, I loved it when people who were shy or afraid to see ballet – people who thought they would not be able to understand it – went to the ballet and were delighted to see how beautiful it is. I love it now when they see that ballet is not something far away and hard to understand, rather something beautiful that everyone can enjoy.”Everyone – including Israelis.Reminded of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the refusal of some artists to perform here, Bocca replies, “Actually, I’m not very familiar with all of that. I am very focused on my work with the National Ballet. We look forward to performing to audiences everywhere, and I think that ballet is a nice way to connect with people. With ballet we are able to express our feelings and be happy without using words. I hope that Israeli audiences, and all audiences, are able to respond positively to this.”Ballet Nacional Sodre performances will be held at: • Herzliya Performing Arts Center on October 14 at 8:30 p.m., October 15 at 8:20 p.m., October 16 at 1 p.m. and October 17 at 9 p.m.; 1-700-70-29-29 and www.hoh-herzliya.co.il • Beersheba Performing Arts Center on October 20, 8:30 p.m.; (08) 626-6400, ext. 1 and www.mishkan7.co.il • Kibbutz Yagur, Yad Lemeginim Theater on October 19 at 8:30 p.m.; (04) 837-7777, (04) 984-8172 and www.barkan- tickets.co.il