MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Nearly six dozen dancers line up at the barre stretching and doing warmup exercises under the watchful eyes of a man who wants to turn the ballet company of this small South American nation into one of the best in the world.
Uruguay's National Ballet of the Sodre has bloomed under the direction of Julio Bocca since he took over in 2010. The Argentine ballet great retired from dancing a decade ago after a brilliant quarter-century run. But he has kept the same passion that he performed on some of the most famous stages to lift the Uruguayan company by attracting prestigious choreographers, instructors and international and local dancers.
Classes are held in two halls of mirrored walls in downtown Montevideo, where dancers bend, rise and perform pirouettes Monday through Friday for eight hours at a time. Bocca often watches silently as the dancers practice. During rehearsals, his voice is so low that he uses a microphone so everyone can hear his instructions.
The building also has a wardrobe where colorful costumes are sewn, and a carpentry workshop where the set designs are built for performances, which now often sell out.
Uruguay is a small country of 3.3 million people. But Bocca has insisted from the start that he wants the company to be among the world's top 10.
It's an ambitious goal, but Bocca has faced great challenges throughout his life. He rose from a Buenos Aires working class roots to dance a style of ballet that connected with the masses, and he later joined the elite ballet corps at the famed Teatro Colon of Buenos Aires.
At age 18, 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 in New York and invited him to join, launching Bocca's storied career.
Bocca recently announced he will be stepping down as director of the company, giving up management responsibilities. But he will continue to live in Uruguay and focus fully on teaching the troupe's dancers.
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