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DANCE REVIEW : Bocca Leads Ballet Argentino in Cerritos


At a time when nearly all the great ballet virtuosi subordinate themselves to one choreographic vision or another, Julio Bocca remains a brilliant gadfly.

Alternately burning up the stage and chewing the scenery, the 27-year-old Argentine looked equally at home in neo-Soviet kitsch, 19th-Century bravura and balleticized exhibition-ballroom on Monday--the first night in his weeklong engagement at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

Unlike Mikhail Baryshnikov and Irek Mukhamedov, Bocca hasn't yet expanded ballet virtuosity by developing unprecedented signature steps that are eventually copied and assimilated into the vocabulary. Instead, he refines the innovations of others to the absolute limits of speed, complexity and clarity, warming the chilly perfection of that achievement with playful, boyish charm.

The Monday program paired him with Argentine ballerina Eleonora Cassano in three archetypal depictions of Latino temperament. First came "Carmen" (a.k.a. "Carmen Suite"), the 1967 Alberto Alonso dance drama originally choreographed for Maya Plisetskaya and also identified with Alicia Alonso. These icons were in their 40s at the time and used the meager choreographic text as an occasion to glory in their star power.

Unfortunately, the conscientious but none too intimidating Cassano couldn't obliterate the choreography in this manner, and you kept wondering why the role required so little actual dancing --especially on pointe. As for Bocca, he flew through flawless multiple turns-into-extension, demonstrated a magnificent command of expressive gesture and emoted floridly.

Supplementing their efforts: an attractive, hard-working, well-coached and very, very young 12-member ensemble from Buenos Aires dubbed Ballet Argentino. Poor babies, the cigarette girls in "Carmen" dutifully ran their hands over their bodies and tried to look sluttish but seemed just as virginal as the young men did in "Tangos" when they dutifully ran their hands over their thighs and tried to look pent-up.

With choreography by G. Mollajoli, Julio Lopez and Juan Carlos Copes, the six-part "Tangos" focused more on stifled sexuality than on the intricacy and drive of tango dancing, but at least Bocca and Cassano fully explored the yearning and sensuality of their first duet and proved very stylish indeed in the formal ballroom display of their second.

In a generous suite from Petipa's "Don Quixote," however, Cassano grew technically overambitious, and even Bocca suffered from several insecure terminations as they piled up high-velocity combinations without end. Yes, his supersonic final turns were amazing, but eight years after his Southern California debut, shouldn't an artist of his caliber be doing more than confirming what we already knew about him?

Taped music accompanied all the ballets and the either-or cast list never specifically credited the subsidiary dancers. Of the lot, Natalia Magnicaballi attracted the greatest attention as a striking embodiment of Destiny in "Carmen."

* Julio Bocca, Eleonora Cassano and Ballet Argentino appear nightly at 8 through Sunday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive. (310) 916-8500. Tickets: $20 to $35.

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