Entertainment

Ballet star Julio Bocca performs last dance before 300,000 fans

Argentine ballet dancer Julio Bocca, dubbed the Baryshnikov of Latin America, leapt and pirouetted in public for the last time Saturday in front of an ecstatic throng of 300,000 people in Buenos Aires.

Argentine ballet dancer Julio Bocca, dubbed the Baryshnikov of Latin America, leapt and pirouetted in public for the last time in front of an ecstatic throng of 300,000 people in downtown Buenos Aires on Saturday night.

The 40-year-old dancer ended his professional career byperforming on an open-air stage on the capital's 9 de Julio Boulevard. Fans crowded onto 12 blocks of the boulevard, said to be one of the widest in the world.

As chants of "Ole! Ole! Julio!" filled the air, Bocca reprised some of his most famous roles from Don Quixote and The Black Swan, mixing it with modern numbers from other musical styles such as samba, tango and jazz.

It endedayear-long goodbye tour of 11 countries. After a 27-year career, Bocca said it was time to hang up his ballet shoes.

"You reach a certain age when it becomes a lot harder," he told the Associated Press.

Bocca began dancing at age four, taught by his mother, who was a dance instructor. By seven, he advanced to the National School of Dance and then joined the elite ballet program at Argentina's famed Teatro Colon opera house.

His career was launched when he won the gold medal at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow in 1985. Mikhail Baryshnikov, the 1969 winner, was then artistic director at the American Ballet Theater (ABT), and invited him to join.

Dance is like making love

"People knew that he was going to be a star when he first began," recalled Rachel Moore, the ABT's executive director. "He was very technically skilled, but he also had such a passion and energy on the stage, especially for someone who was quite young."

According to Bocca, dancing is like "making love. It's about finding something new, exciting and passionate."

Bocca enjoyed a 20-year run at ABT and danced his last number in 2006 to an ovation lasting more than 25 minutes. During that time, he also created his own company, Ballet Argentino, whose members joined him on the stage on Saturday.

On Saturday, his dance partner of 18 years, Eleonora Cassano, also joined him on stage, thrilling his fans.

"He's one of the most exciting ballet dancers in the world," said Florencia Ayala, a theatre student. "I'm just so sad he's retiring."

"Many people can dance, but what Julio communicates to the audience with his dance steps, his face, and his body, it's mystical. He's touched by God," said Raul Hourcastagne, 59, who drove more than 160 kilometres with his family to see Bocca.

The night ended with Argentine pop singer Diego Torres singing Frank Sinatra's trademarksong My Way. Friends doused the dancer with champagne as red, white and green fireworks crackled under a full moon.

Bocca has said he looks forward to retirement and plans on continuing directing his Ballet Argentino troupe.

With files from the Associated Press

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