Ballet firebrand Julio Bocca bursts onstage like a lightning bolt. He enters a room, however, like it’s a library.
An international dance celebrity known for virtuosic bravura, the soft-spoken Argentine is self-effacing, almost shy in person. And the reason he formed his own troupe, which will dance seven shows at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts beginning Monday, seems to reflect the same lack of egotism.
“I wanted to give the young people of Argentina the chance to dance,” says Bocca, who will star with his 14-member ensemble, Ballet Argentino, in short classical and modern works. The Buenos Aires-based troupe, most of its rank-and-file under 20, was scheduled to make its U.S. debut Friday in LasVegas.
Bocca was 18 when he won the gold medal at the prestigious Fifth International Ballet Competition in Moscow. A year later, he became the youngest principal dancer ever hired by American Ballet Theatre and made his North American debut with ABT at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in December,1986.
About four years ago, while making guest appearances around the world and performing in ABT’s New York season (as he still does today), he formed Ballet Argentino with compatriot Eleonora Cassano, his partner in the past five years.
The pair, last seen in Southern California in a 1992 guest performance at the Hollywood Bowl, were former principals with the Teatro Colon Opera Ballet of Buenos Aires. Here they will dance lead roles in the program, including “Don Quixote” and “Raymonda” pas de deux.
Looking all-American in a baseball cap, T-shirt, baggy sweats and clunky Adidas running shoes, the boyish 27-year-old said in a recent interview at the Cerritos center that their friendship strengthened their stage rapport.
“Sometimes we look at each other on stage,” he said, “and we know what the other one will do next. That’s one of the most important things to dancing together.”
Bocca drafted his troupe’s artistic director, Lidia Segnis--the former dancer runs things so that Bocca can keep other commitments--and many of his dancers from the Colon Opera Ballet, which he said does not give members many touring opportunities.
“It’s a big company and it’s not too easy to take around the world,” he said. Conversely, Ballet Argentino has toured Europe, Russia, South and Central America and Mexico. “It’s nice to travel with people who speak my language and to see the young dancers’ faces when they go to other places for the first time.”
Some works Bocca has chosen for the troupe are pyrotechnic showstoppers, such as the “Don Quixote” pas de deux, that he often performs on guest stints. However Ballet Argentino’s versions are more involved than most, he said.
“In ‘Don Quixote,’ for instance, we do some of the first act, (Cassano’s) entrance and my little entrance with a guitar and a little mime, and we have two girlfriends doing little solos. It is not just the grand pas de deux. Sometimes, with these pas de deux, you are so concentrated, you want to do so many pirouettes, the huge jumps, that you forget the role.”
He also chooses works that, as company press materials put it, “correspond to the temperament of the Argentine people.” They include a 35-minute “Carmen” choreographed by Albert Alonso, brother of Cuba’s ballet doyenne Alicia Alonso, and “Tangos,” based on the suavely sensual couple’s dance born in Buenos Aires’ brothels.
“Tangos” includes choreography by Juan Carlos Copes, a dancer and choreographer with “Tango Argentino,” a touring revue seen in Southern California in 1986 and ’87.
“Copes once said if you put the tango jacket, hat and pants on any (Argentine) boy you find on the street, he can dance the tango,” Bocca said. “It’s something we have inside. You know, like Americans have an American style; Argentines have their own kind of spirit and movement.”
The late Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, widely known as the master of “nuevo tango,” wrote half the music for “Dos Mundos” (“Two Worlds”). Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” makes up the other half of the score to this ballet, which unites contemporary Latin culture and “old European culture,” Bocca said.
Julio Lopez, another Colon Opera Ballet alum, choreographed the piece, which is one of the troupe’s most modern works.
“Before, I said: ‘I do only classical ballet, I don’t do modern; modern is not ballet.’ Many classical dancers think that way,” Bocca explained. “But people mature, and now I understand that ballet is only one way.”
Bocca compares his fame in Argentina to that of soccer superstar Diego Maradona (whom many Americans know mainly as the player expelled from this summer’s World Cup for drug use). At home, he’s regularly mobbed by autograph hounds, most of them young women who go gaga over him. But while he has earned a reputation abroad, he still doesn’t have the name recognition of Baryshnikov, for instance.
“That’s why this tour is only a month,” Bocca said. “Maybe it won’t be a success, but you know, we wanted to test the water.”
Still, Bocca has no doubts about a long and fruitful life for Ballet Argentino.
“My idea is to stop performing when I’m 40,” he said, “and maybe then I will direct the company and spend a little more time with the dancers, coaching and all that.”
“I have been working very hard for 12 years to get a name, to get a position around the world, so now, for the rest of my career, I just want to enjoy it. Now I do the things I really like to do. If there’s something I don’t like, I just don’t do it.”
* Julio Bocca and Ballet Argentino perform Monday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m. at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. $20-$35. (310) 916-8500.