Bujones, Fernando Calleiro

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Bujones, Fernando Calleiro

(b. 9 March 1955 in Miami, Florida; d. 10 November 2005 in Miami, Florida), male ballet dancer who was considered one of the greatest of his generation and as a premier danseur (lead male dancer in a ballet company) was one of the first such Americans to become a world-renowned superstar.

Bujones was the only child of Fernando Bujones, a florist, and Maria (Calleiro) Bujones, a former dancer, both of whom were Cuban and who divorced when he was one year old. When Bujones was five, he and his mother moved to Havana, Cuba, where three years later she enrolled the frail youngster in the Academia de Ballet Alicia Alonso, a state-sponsored school. There, he studied with Alonso herself, a principal with the Ballet de Cuba, and her husband, Fernando Alonso, the company’s director.

In 1965 Bujones and his mother returned to Miami, where he continued to be tutored by his cousin, Zeida Mendez, who had also danced with the Ballet de Cuba. Not long after, the ballet dancer Jacques d’Amboise came to Miami as a guest artist, and Bujones’s mother had d’Amboise audition Bujones for the New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet. The boy was accepted, and at the age of eleven, with the aid of a Ford Foundation grant, he began ballet and piano lessons while also attending the Professional Children’s School. At the ballet school he studied with Stanley Williams, who taught him the style of the nineteenth-century Danish dancer and choreographer August Bournonville; with Alexandra Danilova, whose training he proclaimed gave him “a great deal of grace”; and with André Eglevsky, who provided him with “all the male strength that I could get.” Meanwhile, he continued studying with Mendez. The precocious dancer was so impressive that at fourteen he was invited to join the New York City Ballet by its creator, George Balanchine, an offer he declined because of his youth. Nevertheless, the following year, 1970, Bujones did make his professional debut at Carnegie Hall along with his fellow student Gelsey Kirkland; both were guests of the Eglevsky troupe.

In 1972, when he was seventeen, Bujones graduated from the ballet school and was again invited by Balanchine to join its parent company. Again he declined, however, choosing instead to join the American Ballet Theatre because of its more varied repertory. By the following year he was a soloist with the company, and by 1974 he was made a principal. Also that year, at age nineteen, Bujones competed in the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria, which he had wanted to do for several years. There, he became the first American male to win the gold medal, then remarking “Oh my God! Yes!” Also, to his surprise, he was awarded a certificate for “highest technical achievement.”

Despite his accomplishments, Bujones was overshadowed that year by the defection of Mikhail Baryshnikov from Russia, about whom an exasperated Bujones once declared, “Baryshnikov has the publicity, but I have the talent!” Partly because he felt that home-grown dancers were not appreciated in America, Bujones soon began to perform in international venues as a guest artist, a pattern that intensified over time. By the late 1970s, when he claimed that he was “maturing like a good wine,” he had already appeared with leading companies in Canada, Rome, Vienna, Berlin, Stuttgart, Edinburgh, and Tokyo, as well as with others in Latin America, including in Rio de Janeiro. In Brazil he met his first wife, Marcia Kubitschek, the daughter of a former Brazilian president. They married on 8 June 1980, and their daughter Alejandra was born in 1983.

In 1980 Baryshnikov became the artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre. By 1985 Bujones had grown discontent, and when he refused to dance at the season’s opening unless a new ballet were commissioned for him, he was let go. He then decided to continue with his freelance career, receiving numerous invitations not only to dance but also to restage classics, such as Coppélia and Giselle. In addition, new dances were choreographed specifically for him, and in 1985 he premiered his own first choreography, Grand Pas Romantique, in Florida and New York. From 1987 to 1993 he was a permanent guest artist with the Boston Ballet and continued to dance with companies all over the world, including the Bolshoi Ballet, in Moscow.

Bujones divorced Kubitschek in 1990 and in 1991 married Maria Arnillas, a Peruvian dancer. In 1993 he became the artistic director of Ballet Mississippi, and in 1995, at age forty, he gave his farewell dance performance with the American Ballet Theatre in New York. In 2000 he became the artistic director of the Southern Ballet Theatre in Orlando, Florida, which was renamed the Orlando Ballet in 2002, where he remained until his death.

As he grew older, Bujones grew increasingly interested in teaching and in choreography, creating over a dozen new dances, including Joyous Waltzes and Variations, Jazz Swing, and his version of Bolero. He received numerous dance and other honors, among which were the Dance Magazine Award (1982), the Hispanic Heritage Award (1989), and Chicago’s Artistic Achievement Award (1998). He gave a command performance at the White House for President Ronald W. Reagan in 1985 and was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2002. In September 2005 Bujones, a nonsmoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer. However, his death two months later in a Miami hospital was caused by a malignant melanoma. A funeral service was held in Miami, where Bujones is buried.

Of medium height, the curly-haired Bujones had what the reporter John Gruen described as a “trim, tensile dancer’s body.” His dancing style was widely deemed impeccable, and even early in his career the dance critic Clive Barnes remarked on his “perfect” feet and a “manner that has the authority of a born classicist.” Indeed, most critics agreed that as a technician he was irreproachable. Most also agreed that his dancing style ever matured, especially after his first marriage, becoming softer and subtler. Marianna Tcherkassky, one of his many famous partners, said of his dancing, “He was like a sleek, elegant, beautiful panther onstage.” In her obituary of Bujones in the New York Times, Anna Kisselgoff concluded that he was a dancer “whose pure classical technique, sheer power and bold temperament made him one of the first American-born male dancers to become an international ballet superstar.”

For information on the first thirty years of Bujones’s life, see his autobiography, Fernando Bujones (1984). For a posthumously published excerpt from a second autobiographical work he was in the course of writing, see “Bound for Glory,” Dance Magazine (Jan. 2006). For biographical articles, see Norma McLain Stoop, “Fernando Bujones: American Superman of Dance,” Dance Magazine (Dec. 1979); John Gruen, “Ballet’s ‘Bad Boy’ Grows Up,” New York Times (15 June 1980); Iris M. Fanger, “On the Road to Boston,” Dance Magazine (May 1991); and William Harris, “Poised at 40 to Take the Leap and Turn to Guiding Others,” New York Times (9 Apr. 1995). For information about Bujones’s departure from the American Ballet Theatre, see Jennifer Dunning, “Bujones and Ballet Theater: Anatomy of a Schism,” New York Times (1 Apr. 1986); and Donna Perlmutter, “Bujones Looks to a Career Redefined,” Los Angeles Times (13 July 1986). Obituaries are in the New York Times (11 Nov. 2005) and Daily Telegraph (London) (15 Nov. 2005).

Sandra Shaffer VanDoren