- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2006

What’s more romantically provocative than a tango, the slow, sultry dance of seduction born in the slums of Buenos Aires?

That’s the Valentine’s Day treat the Music Center at Strathmore has programmed, with none other than Argentine superstar Julio Bocca heading “Boccatango,” a revue-style show of singers, dancers and musicians from his Ballet Argentino company. Most of the rhythms are by the masterful Astor Piazzolla.

The elaborately designed program — complete with slide projections of Buenos Aires, elaborate lighting, music interludes and acrobatics — is here for one night only. (The company’s current tour ranges from California to Florida with stops in between.)

“Our show can go anywhere,” Mr. Bocca says, speaking by phone from his home in Buenos Aires. “It doesn’t have to have a special theater like ballets do. You can put it in a small theater, a big theater, outdoors, indoors.”

Tonight is the last time Mr. Bocca will perform in the area. Besides this fairly recent venture into the tango rhythms that have surrounded him since childhood, he is an international star who has guested with the Bolshoi, the Kirov and the major European ballet companies.

He was last seen here three years ago, dancing an impassioned Romeo to the Juliet of Alessandra Ferri, a favorite partner. They performed with the American Ballet Theatre in the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall while the Opera House was being repaired, a situation that Mr. Bocca said reminded him of doing open-air performances in Palermo, Italy.

Mr. Bocca will make his final performance in New York this spring with American Ballet Theatre, where he has been a principal dancer for 20 years.

“It will be sad,” he says, “I’ve been very happy with my years at ABT, but life goes on, and I think it’s my time to retire. I love the dance world, and I will still keep my company, Ballet Argentino, and my school and foundation here in Buenos Aires — and I’ll probably do some coaching with ABT in New York.”

Mr. Bocca, 38, has been dancing since he was 14. He says it’s hard to keep in shape all the time, do class and rehearse so he can be in top form onstage.

“It will be nice,” he reflects, “to have a beer, drink, eat, be with my family and not travel so much.”

The most romantic dance on the program is also its most controversial. Mr. Bocca and his partner, stripped down to brief black bikinis, entwine amorously to throbbing tango rhythms.

The dancer insists it’s not sensationalism. “It’s very sensual, but it’s not provocative,” he says. “I like to do different things, new things, but never to make the audience uncomfortable. I don’t think we’ll have any problem with it — we’ve done it at galas in Cuba and in Russia; we did it at the Royal Ballet and the Paris Opera.”

Mr. Bocca performs another duet around, under, over and with a table. One reviewer asked, “Who would have thought a dance with a table could be so varied and sexy?”

After the success of his table duet, he decided to replicate that concept with a different element. He turned to his show’s choreographer, Ana Maria Stekelman.

“I told her, ‘I remember when I was a little kid, six or seven, playing in the park, climbing high jungle gyms. Let’s do something like that.’

“She came up with the idea of a ladder, and we started to play with the music. I close with that solo because it’s very different. It’s scary to dance up there. I feel the excitement every time I do it.”

WHAT: “Boccatango” with Julio Bocca and Ballet Argentino

WHEN: Tonight at 8

WHERE: The Music Center at Strathmore

TICKETS: $21 to $65

PHONE: 301/581-5100

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