Is there any better way to round out a week of wonderment than by celebrating a man as talented and charming as Julio Bocca? I think not. Friday evening, the Koch Theatre replaced its grandiose guise with a delightfully casual vibe for the Bocca Birthday Bash. With famous dancers flooding the aisles to greet each other and catch up pre-show, I started to feel a bit like I’d stepped into a gigantic living room for a dancer dinner party catered to the likes of Stella Abrera, Lauren Lovette and Isabella Boylston.
As the curtain rose, my intuition took form: A pack of A-list dancers gathered buoyantly around a table stage left, clinking glasses in symbolic toast to Mr. Bocca. Georges Bizet’s Carmen flowed from the speakers, pouring over into the house and inciting an audience-wide exhale in collective satisfaction. The backdrop transformed into a red-wallpapered living room wall, decorated with a gallery of electronic picture frames whose contents came to life, changing with the tide of the program. Each piece seemed befitting of the Bocca theme, many of them proceeded by an insightful commentary from performers past and present.
American Ballet Theatre’s Marcelo Gomes addressed the audience (or were we party guests?) first, transitioning from his touching speech to a rascally rendition of Twyla Tharp’s “My Way” from Sinatra Suite, in which he partnered a refreshingly grounded Luciana Paris. Gomez returned later in the program with Ballet National SODRE dancer Maria Noel Riccetto to dance Macmillan’s Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo & Juliet, serving up a performance nuanced enough to rival even the great Bocc-omeo himself. That music, and those lifts…
Suave Mr. Joaquin De Luz spoke next, leading into his flirtatious performance of the Suite from Other Dances with Tiler Peck. Perhaps I was still relishing in the glow of spotting Ms. Peck leaving rehearsal Wednesday afternoon, but this pas was one of the highlights of the evening for me. The Jerome Robbins choreography seemed to flow out of Peck, as if she was creating it spontaneously right on stage. Excuse the cliché expression, but it was all so organic, as if Tiler was a wet paint brush being swept across a blank canvas by an invisible force of genius. Effervescent joy radiated from them both.
The classics were certainly represented quite well, featuring an adequately impressive Don Quixote, complete with stunning balances and triple fouettés from English National Ballet’s Tamara Rojo and Isaac Hernandez, plus a jaw-dropping opening of the Black Swan pas de deux from San Fransisco Ballet’s Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz.
There were three solos presented, the first being an energetic solo from Mambo Suites danced by the dashing Gonzalo Garcia, followed by a Georgian folk dance from State Ballet of Georgia’s Nina Ananiashvili, and finally the return of Vitor Luiz to finish the show with a Bob Fosse piece which, honestly, sort of started fun and then fizzled.
Contemporary works abounded as well, most noteworthy from Paris Opera Etoiles Isabelle Guerin and Manuel Legris. The two performed a rather moving piece of choreography that, while I admit took a while to win me over (re: the slow as heck first half), ended with a strong, emotional adieu. Though most of the contemporary works were less than thrilling (I love Yuan Yuan and Vitor, but found the choreography in their contemporary pas, Yuri Possokhov’s Final Pas de Deux from Bells, to be quite dated), there was no doubting the extreme level of professionalism on display all evening.
Between performances, dancers took to the stage or screen to share stories and express their appreciation for Bocca. Artwork on the pseudo living room wall transformed to reveal coordinating sketches, vintage photos, and video clips. An on-going interview with the birthday boy himself served as endearing evidence of his contagiously upbeat spirit. In it, Bocca describes himself as being “open and honest on the stage”, a sentiment as equally proven by the footage of past performances as it was in the adoration from Bocca’s colleagues. Former partner, Natasha Makarova, for example, fills the dancer dinner party with sweet praise, remembering,
“I loved you as a partner and as a human. The combination is unique. Ah, to be able to throw myself without fear, and you would always catch me.”
It was loving comments like these, combined with charismatic responses from Bocca which made his magnetism so irresistible. By the end of the evening, you couldn’t help but just love Julio and feel glad for the existence of this ballet legend.
A big THANK YOU to YAGP for having me! I will be posting a few more highlights from the week, so stay tuned. For now, in case you missed them- here are my reviews of The Final Round and The Stars of Today Meet The Stars of Tomorrow Gala. (and a bonus gala dinner post, too!)