After more than seven years as director of Ballet Nacional Sodre (BNS), Uruguay's ballet company, Julio Bocca has decided to leave and move on. During his time in Montevideo he has raised the company's national and international profiles, increased its repertoire and number of performances, and generally turned the company around. When I asked, four years ago, what he wanted to change with the company, he replied, “Everything!” I guess that he has.
So why has he chosen to stand down?
After seven and a half years, although it is a beautiful job, I was feeling a little tired and I never had time to work in the studio with the dancers. I missed that.
He is being replaced by two people: Spanish dancer Igor Yebra will take over, and former dancer and company director, the Italian Francesco Ventriglia, will be the ‘Adjunto a la Dirección Artistica‘. They officially assume their posts at the end of this month.
Does Yebra think he's the right person for the job?
Why not? Who can know if they are right or not? — says Yebra — The only thing I can say is that I am going to do and give my best for the BNS. I know what the BNS means for Julio and for Uruguay and that I have a big responsibility.
Bocca is convinced that Yebra is the right man:
Igor will be right for the company for many reasons. He's guested with us and so he already knows the company. He's a very direct person, a beautiful artist, and he has a very friendly way of connecting with people, so I think he will be very good for the company.
Also, it's good to have someone from outside the company, in this case from Europe, so he will obviously draw in collaborators from that part of the world. I think it will mean a good change in the outlook of the company too: its rep, and the way in which it works.
Yebra has been following the progress of the company over the course of Bocca's direction:
I was there almost at the beginning after Julio arrived, dancing The Merry Widow, and so I already felt in love with them, because I could see the big possibility that was there, and all that Julio was doing for them. I saw how the company was continually becoming better and better and Julio and I spoke about this. When he told me that he wanted to stop working with the company I was the first to tell him not to — but finally…
For the Argentinian Bocca, moving to Uruguay was just a small step, but for his two replacements the move to another hemisphere is a giant leap. Ventriglia, though, has just left as head of the Royal New Zealand Ballet so he's no stranger to long-haul flights. How did he get asked to be Yebra's right hand man?
Someone talked with Igor Yebra about me and the work I have done in New Zealand. Igor called me and after many long conversations he asked me to be part of his team in Uruguay. I've known Igor artistically from many years, but we've never worked together, so I am grateful for his invitation and I thank him for the trust. I feel honoured to work with an artist like Yebra, and for a company like BNS, and I'm excited about this new challenge of my career… I immediately said yes.
The appointment has come at just the right time for Yebra.
I stopped dancing the big classical ballets last year because I wanted to have a new experiences and new objectives, and this is one of the things that I wanted to do. I think I can give a lot to the dancers by taking up this position, and to this company. After the work of Julio in the last seven years, it is perfect: 70 young dancers who want to grow, work hard and learn, and in a country that feels proud of them. It's a dream to go there and work with them.
Bocca is handing over a company in excellent shape, both artistically and economically.
We went from five people in the audience to between 20,000 and 25,000 tickets sold for each programme. We did 105 performances last season, which is something of a record for South America, and we visited Italy, Spain, Cannes, Oman, Thailand, Israel, and from Mexico down we've visited almost all South America.
I was able to make big changes to the rep, with Cranko, MacMillan, Makarova, Balanchine, Tudor, Kilian, Forsythe, Montero, Stekelman, and many others, but also Marina Sánchez. Sánchez was a soloist who decided to stop, I gave her a chance at choreography and she has created some interesting pieces for us. She is also a teacher and will continue under Igor, which all helps a smooth transition.
I worked hard to get sets and costumes made right in our theatre and we now own many of our productions. The company has no debts even with all these new productions we have.
I think I've given a lot for culture in Uruguay.
Yebra and Ventriglia take over with the 2018-2019 programme already in place. The next Bocca project opens in mid-March:
We have a new Sleeping Beauty, with choreography by Mario Galizzi, the current director of Mexico's Compañía Nacional de Danza, with extraordinarily exotic costumes by Spanish fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de La Prada.
I think I am leaving the company in a good place.
So how does Yebra want the company to go ahead?
My principal goal is to consolidate the work that Julio has done during these last years. I want to make sure that the company keeps growing and especially let people outside Uruguay know this company and the beautiful work that it does.
Ventriglia, after heading the Maggiodanza in Florence, and the New Zealand company, brings a wealth of administrative experience.
New Zealand taught me a lot… and not just my English! I have learnt different artistic and financial approaches for sure, and today I have more experience to face and solve problems. Every journey is a new journey and I am looking forward to being there alongside Maestro Igor Yebra to support him and to add my contribution so that the company can continue to grow. I will offer all my passion, commitment and the experience that I have accumulated in the last six years of directing companies and my 15 years as a dancer, but always in an open-minded way, willing to learn every day.
I have never seen the company live, but I am watching lots of videos and I cannot wait to be in the studio with the artists of BNS. I feel I'm more mature after my recent experiences in the way I can motivate and inspire dancers through new challenges, to achieve highest goals.
I learned so much in Uruguay about being a director, teacher, coach and to have a good rapport with the dancers — says Bocca — especially the younger dancers where there is a new way of connecting nowadays.
And what now for Julio Bocca?
After the last Nutcracker, the dancers put together a video and photo presentation and raised a glass to me. I think they were pleased that I have believed in them. It's been another part of my career and I'm happy that it has finished so well, and also grateful for the support of our audience.
Now I'm on holiday until mid-Feb before I start teaching [including the San Francisco and ABT ballet schools], coaching [with the English National Ballet], giving masterclasses, and judging competitions. There is a lot planned.
Above all, I want a little more freedom to work with dancers, and with different companies too, for the next couple of years. As to whether I'll direct another company? We'll see.
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.