YAGP’s 2017 Tribute to a Dance Legend honored Julio Bocca, the beloved star of ABT for twenty years who is now Artistic Director of Uruguay’s national company SODRE which he has buffed and pumped up into that country’s most high-profiled performing arts institution.
The evening was a mix of tribute and roast. In tribute to his former colleague, Marcelo Gomes described how as a young ABT corps dancer he would sit in the studio corner watching Julio rehearse while wondering if he could ever be as good. Then as if to answer his own question, he performed a couple of sequences from Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Songs with Luciana Paris and then the balcony PdD from MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet with Maria Riccetto. Luciana, in the years prior to joining ABT, was a principal dancer and frequent partner of Julio's in his Ballet Argentina. The company also included Herman and Erica Cornejo. Maria, of course, is the former ABT soloist who is now the Resident Prima Ballerina in Julio’s company of 70 dancers.
For the roast part, Joaquin De Luz offered a hilarious, deadly accurate imitation of Bocca’s famous stage walk during which he would trace an arc the width of the stage with his chest puffed out and chin, eyes, and downstage arm raised to the highest seats in the house as he circled to the back to begin his variation.
There were many admirable performances during the evening, most notably Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz of San Francisco Ballet in the final PdD from Bells by Yuri Possokhov, and Tamara Rojo and Isaac Hernandez from English National Ballet in the Don Q PdD. Yuan Yuan, who is 40, has been blessed with the exceptionally narrow and lengthy limbs that are so highly prized and create such exquisitely graceful shapes. But she still has enough strength to pull off a respectable Black Swan PdD as she also showed with Luiz on Friday night. Tamara, who is about to turn 43, didn’t offer a “lite” version of her Don Q variation either. Nosiree, Bob. She packed it with virtuosity and energy that anyone half her age would be grateful to have.
In all the celebration of Julio’s career, however, important parts of his story were missed.
Julio’s meteoric rise in the world of ballet began with a spectacular failure that he turned into gold - literally. At the 1985 Moscow Ballet Competition, an early forerunner of the YAGP, 18-year-old Julio took a messy, bruising fall during his Don Q variation. But he rose above it and also performed a stellar Nutcracker PdD that drove the learned Russian audience wild and impressed the hard-to-impress judges who included Yuri Grigorovich. It’s all on tape – the fall, the recovery, the rise. (Don Q, Nutcracker, and one of Haglund’s all-time favorites of Julio's Don Q with Cynthia Harvey - Baryshnikov version.)
Artistic Director Mikhail Baryshnikov heard of Julio’s performances in Moscow, invited him to audition for ABT, immediately hired him as a principal dancer, and became his mentor and ardent taskmaster. That probably didn’t sit very well with Kevin McKenzie who struggled to get Baryshnikov’s respect as a dancer and has since made an effort to erase Baryshnikov’s years from ABT’s history. Nevertheless, it was a surprise and a little disappointing to see YAGP fail to credit Baryshnikov for his discovery of Bocca or even mention the Moscow competition.
Julio has recently mentioned in an interview that he would like to take a year off to recoup and refresh, like he did after retiring as a dancer, and to assess what challenges he wants to invite into his next chapter of life. Friday night he looked very good and happy but also contemplative. Perhaps he knows, as do we, that it is time for him to come home – that this is where he can make his greatest positive impact and this is where he is needed most.
The many wonderful photos of the evening which are dancing their ways through the internet ensure our long memory of the celebration. Balletomanes, though, have elephant memories; we never forget.