Originally created 08/19/04

Argentine ballet star shows his sultrier side in tango extravaganza



NEW YORK -- Argentine dance star Julio Bocca generates so much animal heat in "Boccatango" that he makes all his partners seem sexy - even a wooden ladder and a plain old table.

This is tango, yes, but tango like you've never seen it before: filled with athletic, balletic leaps, running lifts, same-sex partnering and partial nudity.

The 90-minute show, which ended its U.S. premiere run at the Joyce Theater over the weekend, is a highly entertaining mix of music, song and especially dance, performed by members of Bocca's accomplished Ballet Argentino and the musical group Octango.

It gives Bocca, normally seen in classical roles as a principal with American Ballet Theatre, the chance to really show off his intensely romantic persona. Bocca was an ardent and admired Romeo for many years before retiring from the part, but here he gets to romance not just Juliet but a whole company of eager tango partners, male and female.

After a loving film montage of Buenos Aires and a tango song performed by Guillermo Fernandez, the evening begins with Bocca tangoing in white tie and tails. It's a Fred-and-Ginger moment - only here, Ginger is a man.

The heat rises in the next number as Bocca, now stripped down to a see-through mesh tank and his tux pants, writhes passionately on and around a plain table. A woman in a sequined black dress appears but only ever so briefly; she is apparently the object of his tortured dreams.

Later, Bocca is partnered by four men in chairs who lift him in balletic leaps as he twists and turns among them. All of choreographer Ana Maria Stekelman's imaginative dances seem to take off from tango, but then veer into a different dance form that you would never encounter on any ballroom floor.

And they certainly are passionate. In a number set in a cafe, Bocca encounters a woman in a prim suit, with a tidy bun in her hair. As they dance to the infectious tango rhythms, she suddenly removes her suit and lets down her hair, to dance with him only in her lacy undergarments. Then, just as suddenly, she leaves.

But the same woman, gorgeously danced by Cecilia Figaredo, appears a bit later in yet another duet with Bocca, this time in a dance that seems like one long deeply passionate embrace. It adds to the mood of the moment that both are wearing virtually nothing.

Perhaps the most striking moment of the evening, though, was for Bocca alone, unless you count the wooden ladder that served as his partner. With the dance floor filled with mist, Bocca, wearing only jeans and work gloves, dangled from the rungs, wove his body through them, ran and leaped onto them, or hung from them by his feet. It may not have been your usual tango, but it was hypnotic.