A Weekend of Latin Dance With Two Ballet Legends

(photo by Fabrizio Ferri)

Julio!!! Today I trekked all the way out to the end of the 2 line, to Brooklyn College’s Performing Arts Auditorium, to see Julio Bocca’s very final performance in the United States. Julio, Argentinian ballet legend who spent most of his career with American Ballet Theater and who just retired from ABT last year (see my bizillion photos of that splendid event here), danced one final year with the ballet / tango company he founded in Argentina, Ballet Argentino, and is now permanently retiring from dance. His final performance is to be in Argentina next month. He’s 40 years old.

He’s so great. Watching him today made me sad again, remembering last year’s farewell. He looked really good, more in his element today actually than toward the end of his ABT days. He looked really happy and at ease. And he’s let his hair grow out, which to me looks a lot better than short:

At the end, in the final curtain call, he came out in a white bathrobe. At ABT’s final bow, he came out in tights only and had a beer, at one point pouring it all over himself. This curtain call was about 1/100th the length of last year’s, and I’m thinking it’s in large part because the theater was filled with regular Brooklyn College-ites and not Bocca fans. Several people around me exclaimed that they’d never seen the auditorium so packed. They didn’t seem to know…

Anyway, the performance, “Bocca Tango” was a series of balletic tangos, most very beautiful, some cute and humorous.

Julio shined in his solos, in which he danced gorgeous contemporary balletic pieces, one with a table as prop / set, and the other with a ladder. The ladder was my overall favorite, as, judging from the applause, was the audience’s.

The way he worked that ladder, snaking his body through the rungs, hurling himself onto a step and acrobatically throwing his legs up and over his body where they landed on a top bar. It was incredible, and looked very risky.

He also did a few duets with a female partner, and a couple with a male, in which he danced the female part. All pas de deux involved a combination of tango and ballet, so among all of the partnerships, including the male / male, there was both straight tango dancing and beautiful lifts. Julio makes a really lovely follower / ballerina 🙂 There was also a group number involving several couples, two male / female, one male / male (involving Julio again as ‘the feminine’). The male / male duets weren’t really homoerotic or romantic though; they were more cute and playful.

My favorite duet overall was one he danced with a woman to a swift allegro, a kind of milonga-style tango combined with swingy balletic lifts. They were both dressed in light blue — he shirtless and in pastel pants, she in a flowing knee-length baby blue dress. Both barefoot. Much of the partner dancing was barefoot, which I prefer to the typical high tango heels. It’s more natural, you can see the shape of the leg better when the dancer goes on releve (ball of foot), and of course the beauty of the foot itself. Plus, I think it’s easier to dance in bare feet, even if you’re on releve the whole time. He had another seductive number with another woman, both of them dressed only in underwear. The lights were very dimmed so you couldn’t really make out much besides the outlines of their bodies, making it all the more sensuous, in my opinion.

It was of course an irreplaceable experience to see Julio perform, but as far as the choreography went, after about the first hour, everything began to look the same: same overhead lifts, same tango steps, same combinations. I think the choreographer (Ana Maria Stekelman) could work to vary the choreography more, come up with some more original, more poetic lifts at least. And I haven’t taken much tango, but this seemed pretty basic. Luis Brava’s “Forever Tango” had a lot more variety. In Brava’s show, which I saw three or four years ago, I remember seeing a man lift his partner overhead, then, continuing to carry her, do chaine turns (continuous two-footed turns) diagonally across the room. It was breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like it since.

I still can’t believe this was Julio’s final performance…

Saturday night, Apollinaire and I went to the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Hell’s Kitchen to see one of the best flamenco performances I’ve ever seen, Maria Pages‘s “Self Portrait.” Brilliant! Those bewitching hands! Those boneless wrists! How does she do it? She made me want to take flamenco again so badly.

One thing I really love about flamenco is how the band is part and parcel of the dance. Far from being stuck down in some orchestra pit, they sat adjacent to the stage, four band members on each side, their gaze concentrated on Maria. There was one male singer, one female, and instruments included drums, guitars (obviously) but even a cello! Apollinaire and I both remarked we’d never seen such an instrument at a flamenco performance before. The singing, especially the man (although Apollinaire loved the woman) was gorgeous. I don’t know that much about world music or dance (other than the little Latin I’ve taken) but the man’s singing sounded very Indian, not at all Spanish. Both song and dance seem filled with so much anguish and sorrow, but also celebration and immense beauty.

There were also two male dancers who accompanied Maria at points, and of course I went wild over their insanely fast footwork. Plus, one looked quite a bit like Herman, with long, black boyish curls. Irresistible!

The night was made all the more fun by the salon / cafe-style setting. Instead of a regular theater, they had set up little round tables surrounded by folding chairs, and they sold champagne (only $4 per cup!) and little nut mixes that you could bring into the “theater” with you. The relaxed atmosphere made you want to tap your feet to the infectious rhythm, clap your hands, snap your fingers, shout “Ole” and try to sing along with the band. I want more of these kinds of things! The last two numbers were danced to a remake of John Lennon’s “Imagine” (which is amazingly flamenco-friendly — who knew?!), and then the band members all began chanting and kind of cutely cajoling Maria into dancing some more. Their voices sounded like a kind of flamenco rap! So much fun.

Another highlight:

The man himself 🙂 Not onstage, but in the audience, front center. From where I was sitting, I had the perfect view of him and I couldn’t stop watching. I broke out into giggles at several points as well. He’s so cute. He wears his hair all mussed about and has a trendy goatee and he’s still very small and dancerly, so from afar he looks just like he always did; it’s only when you get up close you see all the lines on his face. When we were in the lobby and Apollinaire was taking care of the press tickets while I was placing my alcohol order, he walked in. The ticket collector called out to him. “Misha,” she called him! Not Mr. Baryshnikov!!! I know he probably told all of his employees to call him by his nickname, but still! Anyway, more cafe-style, participatory Latin dance events with Baryshnikov within reach please please 🙂

Finally, this has nothing to do with Latin dance or ballet legends or even dance in general, but while I’m on the subject of my crazy weekend, on Friday night my friend Alyssa, whose friend does PR for The Big Apple Circus, invited me to their gala. I haven’t been to the circus since high school, and I’ve never been to any gala event. Beforehand in the lobby they had very chi-chi hors d’oeuvres like mini duck tacos, along with open bar and cotton candy 😀 Then they gave us box dinners while we watched the show.


Alyssa enjoys a glass of wine with dinner.

Show was fun – -nothing big with elephants or tigers, but there were some good gymnasts and really cute dogs. I know I should probably be against any use of animals, but they were just so cute…

As long as they’re treated well… This lady had these adorable poodles walking on their hind legs carrying various objects. At one point a poodle came out dressed in an old lady’s moomoo and, walking on its hind legs holding a leash connected to a cat, walked the cat around the perimeter of the tent. Alyssa and I were laughing so hard we were crying.

Then, they had these amazing acrobats. This duo reminded me of David and Marcelo mainly I guess because of their hair color. Marcelo lay down on his back, raised his feet in the air, and kicked David all about, sending him into these continuous magnificient air sommersaults!

Sorry about the blur. I didn’t want to hurt anyone by turning on my flash.

There was a great belly / hoola dancer.

And these bronzed people who did these crazy lifts.

Christopher Meloni from Law & Order: SVU, and Meredith Viera, were the celebrity ringleaders.

Hehe, fun night! After the show, they brought out a mat and covered the show area with an array of desserts. It was like midnight buffet on a cruise ship. They had every kind of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar imaginable, an enormous cake with “Big Apple Circus” written all over it, cookies, chocolate-covered fruit, brownies, everything. I didn’t feel so well when I walked out of there to be honest. I do wonder how this compares to ABT’s galas…


  1. So glad you got to see Julio Bocca with his company! I saw them in my neighborhood two years ago, and I’ll never forget the ladder dance. Wasn’t the music haunting as well? I never had a clue that an accordion could make the sounds that it did (except I don’t think it was called an accordion, a bandaleon? I forget, it was a while ago.)

    When I saw him in person, Misha was shorter and looked older than I ever imagined.

  2. It’s hard to tell from your picture, but I suspect the dancer in white was doing neither bellydancing nor hula, It looks like she was hooping

  3. Sounds like an amazing weekend! Interesting what you say about preferring to watch tango in barefoot. I’m not sure I agree, but then again I’ve never actually seen barefoot tango, so who am I to say that. Those heels just add something, though.

    About flamenco, there’s a DC based blog about flamenco by a flamenco guitarist that might interest you. I forget the address but there’s a link from my blog (it’s either miguelito’s blog or dc flamenco). It’s just interesting to get the perspective from the musician rather than the dancer, particularly because the musicians do interact so much with the dancers.

  4. Thanks Maria — I will definitely check it out! Yeah, Natalia, she was definitely hooping! — although, at first she didn’t have the hoola hoops; she danced without them and the kind of dancing it looked to me like she was doing was belly. Jolene — I know, I love Piazzola — the first time I heard tango music, I bought a CD and years later I still play it all the time (it’s in my CD player now in fact 🙂 )

  5. Hooping has developed into it’s own style in the past 5 years or so. I know that it’s incorporated a lot of movements from world dance styles that are heavy on hip and torso articulation, but not they have instructional DVD’s specifically about just hooping and everything.

    I have come *this close* to buying a hoop, it looks like so much fun, but the kind of hoops they use are enormous! Like 3.5-4 feet across and pretty heavy. And easily $50 and up, before shipping, since they’re all custom made. Still, I have enough space in my basement studio to use a large hoop without breaking anything…

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