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New York City Ballet

‘Todo Buenos Aires’

8th January 2005
New York City, New York State Theater

by Eric Taub

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Having recently observed that neither of Ashley Bouder's partners in 'Ballo della Regina' were ideal for her, I must add that her ideal partner did indeed make an appearance with New York City Ballet during the first week of the Winter Season, but not, alas, with Bouder. I'm talking about Julio Bocca, who made an unforgettable appearance in a newly reworked version of Peter Martins' ballet from 2000, 'Todo Buenos Aires.' Like Bouder, Bocca's a compact powerhouse, and his smoldering and moody presence would've meshed well, I think, with her fire. Either that, or they would've immolated each other right there on stage. Instead, Bocca danced with Wendy Whelan, and created a sensation.

Although Bocca is, to put it mildly, no slouch as a solo dancer, some of my fondest memories of him are of his partnering, where he's proven to be a bit of a "wild and crazy guy" indeed, and not above letting his partners know, in no uncertain terms, who's the boss. Last fall, in a performance of 'Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux' he looked to be attempting to shock the normally unflappable Xiomara Reyes out of her perky complacency. He'd nuzzle her neck at opportune moments, and once sent her on a wild ride of a supported pirouette, making it clear to everyone in the theater that Reyes wasn't going to stop spinning until he was good and ready to stop her. The look on Reyes' face when Bocca finally relented her fixed smile not quite masking the glint of terror in her eyes was priceless.

Bocca was a bit better behaved in his debut with City Ballet. Originally, Peter Martins set 'Todo Buenos Aires' to two of Astor Piazzolla's tangos, each danced by two trios of a woman and two men, one led by Wendy Whelan, the other by Darci Kistler. It was a slight work. The women vamped, and the men looked like gigolos. Despite some acrobatic partnering, 'Todo Buenos Aires' never delved much beneath a superficial look at the tango's sensuality and intricacies. With the addition of Bocca, and four more tangos, the piece took on an added dimension, if not necessarily more depth. The curtain rose on Bocca, dressed in black slacks and a loose black shirt, briefly contemplating the on-stage musicians (five from City Ballet's orchestra, including the sublime Kurt Nikkanen on violin, augmented with Hector "Tito" Castro on the accordion-like bandoneon), before launching into a moody solo. Both Wendy Whelan and Darci Kistler materialized as if Bocca evoked them from his memories (yes, it's one of those pieces), as well as Philip Neal, Nilas Martins, Albert Evans and Robert Tewsley (back with City Ballet as a guest artist, and to dance his role in Eifman's abominable 'Musagete'). Peter Martins' two original trios were reprised, but with Bocca grafted, not always gracefully, onto the action. Bocca also had two sizzling numbers with the four men (who looked, at first, to be rather intimidated by Bocca's stormy bravura). In general, the newer bits seemed far more tango-ey (to coin a phrase), and I suspected that Bocca (who's made a bit of a cottage industry out of presenting balleticized tangos with his Ballet Argentiono and Boccatango groups) might've had more than a little input into Martins' choreography. Nevertheless, 'Todo Buenos Aires' is Martins' ballet, Martins brought in Bocca, and Martins deserves the credit for creating a popular hit especially the sensational duets for Whelan and Bocca.

I must admit, in all my years of watching ballet, I never once imagined that I'd see Bocca and Whelan dancing together. He's not a City Ballet type; she's not ABT material, even as a guest artist. She's too tall; he's too short. On flat feet, Whelan looms a good half-head taller than Bocca. On point, she would seem to totally dominate him. And yet, he became her perfect foil, by the force of his strength and personality. In their slinky duet, he constantly tested her, pulling a bit too close, nuzzling her neck, being ever so rough and manly. And Whelan gave it back to him, in spades, never retreating, turning up the fires Bocca was so relentlessly fanning. If he pulled her close, she leaned into him even closer; when he got in her face, she got right back in his. Beneath her short black dress, her mile-long legs and arms were the perfect embellishment for every swoopy lift and swooning backbend, yet when she'd wrap one around his waist (a tango move of which Martins seems extraordinarily fond), it was as much of a challenge as an invitation. Near the duet's end, Whelan was leaning into Bocca in a deep backbend; he leaned over her, planting a delicate, upside-down kiss on her lips, an instant before she righted herself and dismissed him with a shove against his chest. The moment was electric, and the audience went wild.

Whelan and Bocca were, beyond a doubt, the hottest couple of the piece. Indeed, they're one of the hottest pairings I've seen on a ballet stage. The second hottest couple was - Bocca and Tewsley. The other men seemed a bit uncomfortable with the brief man-on-man pairings (it's traditional in tango), but Tewsley, like Whelan, never retreated from Bocca's intensity. The same can't be said for Darci Kistler, who looked quite terrified of Bocca. For years, Kistler has been partnered by men for whom she is the Boss's Wife, and who would move heaven and earth to make her look her best. Bocca, while not by any means trying to make Kistler look bad, challenged her as he did Whelan, or tried to, as Kistler was having none of it. Martins' demure choreography for Kistler didn't help her cause - while Whelan's duets with Bocca were all succulent lunges and luxuriant developpés, Kistler's were far more staid, as if Martins were saying, "See, nice girls can tango, too."

'Todo Buenos Aires' doesn't do much to advance the art of choreography. It's uneven (the original trio featuring Kistler is particularly cringe-worthy in its repetitive fussiness), and, even at best, ventures perilously close to a Guilty Pleasure. As a vehicle for Bocca, it's decked out in chrome tail-fins, fat white-walls and fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Nevertheless, when it works, it works sensationally well. It drew great, and approving, crowds at its subsequent performances, and not all were familiar City Ballet types. However he did it, Martins has a hit, and more power to him.


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