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Flash Review 1, 6-3: Bye-bye Bocca
ABT Star Bows as Romeo

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Julio Bocca gave his final performance as Romeo in American Ballet Theatre's production of Kenneth MacMillan's "Romeo & Juliet" Saturday night to a roaring, appreciative Metropolitan Opera House audience. Alessandra Ferri, who danced the role of Juliet, joined ABT as a principal in 1985, one year before Bocca. While they surely don't have the youngest bones in the company, their artistic maturity packed an emotional punch that is less developed in younger dancers.

Kenneth MacMillan choreographed this production to Sergei Prokofiev's score for the Royal Ballet in 1965; it was first performed by ABT in 1985. Nicholas Georgiadis designed the sumptuous costumes and the neo-'B' movie sets. The noble women wore gowns made of yard after yard of metallic-shot brocade, and head caps the size of watermelons. The town's women sported less cumbersome outfits which allowed them to do some dancing, but they wore red afro wigs and white pancake makeup that rendered them unidentifiable.

Bocca portrayed Romeo as if he were everybody's best friend -- a guys' guy and a ladies' man, too. He danced expressionistically, in big bold strokes, his roguish hair adding italics to every casually executed bravura move. He moved comfortably between gamboling with Mercutio (Joaquin de Luz) and Tybalt (Ethan Brown), jousting with Lord Capulet (the savory, wicked Victor Barbee), and romancing Juliet in several duets performed with a touching sincerity.

Ferri embodied Juliet wonderfully -- still gamine-like, limby, with beautifully shaped feet, airy extensions and Gumby flexibility. But these assets would mean little if she weren't so convincingly charming, petulant, and passionate in the role. You really felt for her when she faced the dour prospect of marrying Paris, played with appropriate stiffness by Gennadi Saveliev looking a bit like David Hasselhof (if you squinted). Bocca partnered her well, lifting her easily in a backbend, or wrapping her up in his arms like a bird.

De Luz, who lately is one of the most prominently featured soloists in performances I've seen, showed a large helping of charisma both in his playful (yet eventually fatal) jousting matches, and when leading a group of mandolin players. He's always been a technical whiz -- a compact, allegro killer -- but his onstage personality is developing in exhilarating ways, especially when he is not overly costumed or made up. Stella Abrera as Rosaline, a noble, carried enough haughty sangfroid to ensure many future stints as nobility -- let's hope it's not a trap without a door. Susan Jones was tucked deep inside her voluminous nurse's costume, but sweetly conveyed her sympathetic character. The venerable Frederic Franklin made a cameo as the Friar, unwitting expediter of the fatal finale.

Ballet is, of course, an art and not a sport, but the increasing level of physical prowess certainly parallels that in sports, where advancements in performance are measured with statistics. (Of course there are certain achievements in ballet that have become de facto stats, such as 32 fouettes, but they're not officially tracked, as far as I know.) Bocca, who broke ground for the current highly evolved batch of dancer/athletes, still comports himself with undeniable power, but the standards are simply more demanding than when he first burst onto the scene.

Bocca will continue to dance in other roles. His relaxed earthiness and exuberance came across even in his solo curtain calls. While most of the dancers execute these calls with certain formality -- moving far stage left and bowing or dipping with a nodded head -- Bocca just cleared the pulled-away curtain, and acknowledged the applause as if thanking us individually for complimenting him in person. With genuine humility, several times he tried to get Ferri to remain with him to receive the applause. He will be missed as an accessible yet convincing Romeo.

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