The Last Bocca Farewell

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The New York Sun

Perched on the windowsill of Julio Bocca’s dressing room at the Metropolitan Opera House is a small blue cooler with a handwritten note that reads: “Ice cold beer here!”

“It is Argentinean beer,” Mr. Bocca, a principal dancer with American Ballet Theater and native of Argentina, said, explaining that the cooler and its contents were delivered by an admiring fan. “So I can relax after the show.”

Not many dancers indulge in alcohol in their dressing rooms, but Mr. Bocca is not the average dancer. These days, he has ample reason to celebrate, and legions of fans to encourage him.

On Thursday, June 22, Mr. Bocca will retire from ABT, ending a 25-year career that has made him an international star. Over the last few years, Mr.Bocca has retired certain leading roles; he danced his last “Don Quixote” in 2005 and his last “Romeo and Juliet” in 2003. For each farewell, the audience bestowed its wild fervor for this most passionate of dancers. Now, however, he’s closing out his ABT career. (Mr. Bocca has a handful of performances scheduled in Buenos Aires through December 2007, but Thursday will be his last New York show.)

“I want to finish on top,” he said. “I did ‘Giselle’ and I thought I did a good job. This is what I truly wanted – to finish a good show and say, that’s it.”

Though critics and fellow dancers say his brazen technical skills show no signs of weakening and, at 39, he is arguably young for retirement even by ballet standards, Mr. Bocca says he simply is tired. And his dynamic career needs no embellishment to sound exhausting.

A professional dancer since the age of 14, he began his American career when then-ABT artistic director, Mikhail Baryshnikov, plucked him from Brazilian company Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro. Mr. Baryshnikov had taken notice of the floppy-haired Argentinean’s shocking gold medal-win at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow in 1985 and immediately appointed him principal dancer at ABT. Mr. Bocca was all of 19.

In 1990 he founded his own company, Ballet Argentino, which,like his beloved Argentinean World Cup team, sells-out both stadiums and merchandise when it performs in its home country. He also set up a dance school and a foundation to help manage his ventures. His investments have already produced serious talents, including current ABT sibling team Herman and Erica Cornejo.

He also has performed as a guest artist with countless companies around the world including the Royal Ballet of London, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet. He starred on Broadway in the hit show “Fosse” and danced for the silver screen in the Argentinean film “Tango” (1998). And in the ultimate example of his rockstar status in South America, Mr. Bocca even posed for Argentinean Playboy in 1993.

But the bedrock of his career has been firmly centered in New York, and what will be mourned perhaps even more than Mr. Bocca’s personal exit from the stage is the end of his lauded artistic partnership with Italian ballerina Alessandra Ferri.

Ms. Ferri, a fellow ABT principal, has been Mr. Bocca’s regular on-stage companion for the last two decades. Both dancers’ careers have long been defined by their fervent and seemingly organic partnerships in classic ballets like “Romeo and Juliet,” “Giselle,” and “Manon,” the ballet that will mark their final joint appearance at ABT on Thursday night.

Mr. Bocca said he felt blessed to have met Ms. Ferri – who joined the company just one year prior to his arrival – so early in their careers with ABT. “With [her], the trust was from the beginning, and now we just feel like one person,” Mr. Bocca said, clutching his chest while struggling to explain their connection. “Nobody’s going to believe it, but I was always very shy, so she started taking a lot from inside of me,” he said.

Ms. Ferri echoed her partner’s thoughts. “With Julio, you’re not alone on stage,” she said. “I’ve had other wonderful partners, but there’s always something that we can’t share. [Julio and I] live in the moment and we really care for each other, truly. It’s a fortune that I wish on other dancers.”

Mr. Bocca recalled that a recent full-length rehearsal of “Manon” flowed so seamlessly for the two that it felt like an actual performance. “Some of the dancers came over and said, ‘It’s so nice to see the two of you so relaxed together. It’s comfortable to watch,'” he said. “And that’s the way we feel.”

While Ms. Ferri, who is edging toward the end of her own career, emphasized her support for Mr. Bocca to move on to the next phase of his life, she also couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of a dancer’s latent artistry.

“When you’re young, you have to make your career,” she explained, “but now we are really dancing for ourselves and every performance is something we cherish. I’m happy for him that he’s so serene about it.”

Mr. Bocca, though, projects no hesitations about retiring. He expressed his desire to return to ABT to coach younger dancers in the company. After all, he says, he finally has a green card, and might as well take advantage of his newfound legality. He plans to develop an integrated educational and performing arts school in Argentina.

For now, though, his attention is focused squarely on, well, less aggressive career moves.”Drinking!”he said. “Eating without thinking of getting fat.”

And his secret passion? Amusement parks.”I love roller coasters,” he said before dashing off to rehearsal. “I want to wake up in the morning and say, ‘Let’s go here.’ Instead of saying, ‘Let’s go to class.'”

The New York Sun

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