Julio Bocca has been at the helm of the Uruguay's Ballet Nacional for almost four years. The company – officially known as the Ballet Nacional SODRE (BNS), as it comes under the umbrella organisation of Uruguay's national broadcaster, SODRE – was formed in 1935, though it has had some hard times through the years. A fire in 1971 destroyed Montevideo's Estudio Auditorio del Sodre, the company's base, and for almost forty years, until 2009, the theatre was closed. The year after the new theatre was opened – the Auditorio Nacional Adela Reta – Bocca met with Uruguay's Minister of Education and Culture:
I talked about the possibility of becoming the company's director, and I laid out my requirements for rebuilding the company. The Minister called Uruguay's President, José Mujica, and two days later we met, and he offered me the position of Artistic Director.
Bocca had been living in Uruguay since 2008 and the short hop to his homeland in Argentina – the plane from Montevideo to Buenos Aires takes less than an hour – makes it strategically perfect for him.
The company celebrates its 80th Anniversary next year, but since the fire it fell into a very bad state with poor working conditions. I saw that the dancers were supporting the company, but had little support in return. I enjoy challenges, and thought I could rebuild the company.
When asked what he wants to change about the company, Bocca's answer is unequivocal,
Everything! The working day will be extended from the current 5 hours a day to 7½; we will broaden the repertoire, though it will remain a classical company, to include other styles; and we're working: we've gone from just 15 performances a year to 90, with national and international tours.
The new theatre has the facilities necessary to aid a growing company. Two rehearsal rooms (one of 15 x 15 metres, the other slightly smaller), dressing rooms for the 65 dancers with no more than four in each, a physiotherapy department, and the possibility to build a production – costumes and sets – in the theatre. This is something that Bocca is keen to encourage instead of hiring in.
I don't want us to lose the skills needed to paint a backdrop, create a costume or make props. If we can make productions internally then the money we spend won't leave the country. There isn't a large choice of locally-made fabrics as this is a small country, so we do need to shop abroad for certain things.
The theatre also has its own orchestra, chorus and a youth orchestra, with a 18 x 20 metre stage and seating for an audience of 2,000. Does it sell out?
It is a public that is growing and getting younger too. When I started the audience was largely of older people, in fact, it is a country with an elderly population. But the public is widening and continues to grow. We manage to do between 10 and 12 performances of each programme, and sell up to 20,000 tickets for each. We are also encouraging the schools to come. The company must return to having its place of prestige in Uruguay, and the population here deserves to have it.
The company is treating its dancers as well as it can with 13-month contracts and unemployment insurance paid for by the State, which also meets costs of maintaining the theatre. The company has five main sponsors for funding its productions. Three are public companies: ANTEL Telecommunications (which resides in Uruguay's tallest building, the Torre Antel, and dominates the skyline of Montevideo), the Banco Republica, and ANCAP Oil; and two private sponsors: Buquebus transport and Pronto! financial services. Their support also covers the infamously costly issue of buying pointe shoes,
At the beginning it was very difficult because I did not understand very well why so many pairs were needed… now I know why!
The infrastructure is coming together, but it is worthless without a vision.
We must continue to strive towards excellence, enlarge the repertoire, to produce our own ballets and rely less on outside organisations. I want to bring in more teachers from abroad – we've had for the third year running a teacher from the Paris Opera – and my dream is that we can attain a level of excellence like at ABT, the Royal Ballet, La Scala and the Paris Opera Ballet. Here in Uruguay there have always been talented dancers but there has never been a long-term project.
Bocca has enticed ABT ballerina Maria Riccetto back to her homeland and made her a principal with the company, and promoted the 20-year-old Spanish dancer, Ciro Tamayo, to principal last November.
Latin dancers have an exciting daredevil quality that they bring to performances and we must use that in rehearsals and refine it to improve the quality, both technically and artistically.
So what will make it work this time… apart from Julio Bocca himself, of course.
It's different now: there's great support from the government, the companies who sponsor us and especially the public. I'm very grateful to friends and colleagues who have come, or will come, as choreographers and dancers, to support me in this adventure.
At the end of August 2014, Riccetto and Tamayo will star in the company's new Don Quixote and the theatre is happy that it has already sold more than 16,000 tickets. It seems that Bocca's dedication, and that of his colleagues and dancers, is paying dividends.
As this takes off it will be an opportunity for dancers throughout the world, and especially in South America, to have another company where they can work and live doing what they love… dancing!
The Ballet Nacional SODRE will be touring Spain from 18 October until 9 November 2014 with El Mesías (The Messiah), choreographed by Mauricio Wainrot, which will visit San Sebastian, Seville, Alicante, Avilés, Gijón, Majorca, Vitoria, Pamplona, Logroño, Madrid and Toledo.
Spanish Tour – El Mesías
The company's new production of Don Quixote, with Raúl Candal and Silvia Bazilis's choreography and Hugo Millán's sets and costumes, opens at the end of this month. On 28 August, there will be a benefit performance for the Fundación Niños con Alas (Children with Wings) with Vanessa Fleita and Ciro Mansilla. The official opening is with Maria Noel Riccetto as Kitri and Ciro Tamayo as Basilio, both making role débuts, on 29 August.
Photography by Santiago Barreiro
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.