Born Fernando Bujones Jr., March 9, 1955, in Miami, FL; died of complications from melanoma, November 10, 2005, in Miami, FL. Ballet dancer. Considered one of the best classical ballet dancers of the 1970s and 1980s, if not the best American-born male ballet dancer, Fernando Bujones was a rival of Mikhail Baryshnikov, but was considered more talented than the better-known Russian dancer. Bujones was also the first American male dancer to capture gold at the International Ballet Olympics in 1974. As Lewis Segal wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Bujones had "an impeccable sense of style that constantly refined his state-of-the-art virtuosity."
Bujones was born in Miami in 1955 to Cuban natives Fernando Bujones Sr. and Mary Calleriro, a former dancer. His mother was in Florida visiting relatives at the time of his birth. Soon after he was born, he returned with his mother to Cuba. His parents divorced when he was five years old, and he began his dance training in Havana at the age of six. His mother enrolled him in dance classes because of his poor constitution as a child. He moved between Miami and Havana until 1964 when he and his mother moved permanently to Miami. His life-long teacher/coach was his cousin Zaida Cecilia-Mendez, though he also received his early ballet education from Alicia Alonso.
A recipient of the Ford Foundation scholarship, Bujones attended New York City's School of American Ballet from the age of eleven. Bujones thrived at the school, receiving his education primarily from Stanley Williams and André Eglevsky. Bujones stood out as a talent at the school's productions and had much direction as a young dancer. As Anna Kissel-goff wrote in the New York Times, "As a young dancer, he had two idols: He wished, he said, to combine the purity of Erik Bruhn with the power of Rudolf Nureyev." When Bujones was 14 years old, he had the opportunity to join the New York City Ballet. Bujones refused this offer, made by George Balanchine, because he was unsure he could manage the company's repertoire. Bujones later turned down another offer by Balanchine to join the New York City Ballet, preferring to pursue the classical roles offered elsewhere.
In 1970, Bujones made his professional debut with the Eglevsky Ballet. Two years later, he became a member of the American Ballet Theatre's corps, and was named a soloist in 1973. He was soon recognized as one of the most exciting male dancers to emerge in quite some time for his power, technique, interpretative abilities, unmatched grace, solid jumps, and vibrant personality. His unexpected win at the International Ballet Olympics at Varna, Bulgaria, in 1974 sealed this opinion. Soviet dancers usually won there, but he impressed the judges with his variations of "Swan Lake," "La Fille Mal Gardée," and "Fancy Free," among other dances. At the competition, Bujones also was given a special medal for highest technical achievement by the judges.
Soon after the triumph, Bujones was named a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. He was the youngest principal dancer in the company's history. Around the same time that Bujones won, Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union, garnering the Russian dancer more public attention than Bujones and overshadowing him and his achievements. Bujones was recognized as an extraordinary dancer by those in the ballet world, but he could not find the same acclaim and public recognition as Baryshnikov. Their rivalry soon intensified when Baryshnikov joined the American Ballet Theatre, negatively affecting Bujones' choices and experiences as a dancer. The Russian soon became the dominant personality of the company, eclipsing Bujones.
Bujones did not like the roles he was offered when Baryshnikov became the artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre. Tensions simmered for several years as few new roles were created for Bujones. He remained with American Ballet Theatre until 1985 when he resigned after refusing to act as a substitute for Baryshnikov during a New York season. Bujones was also unhappy because a new ballet was not being created for him.
Bujones then spent much time as a guest artist for 60 ballet companies in 33 countries, including the Joffrey Ballet. In 1987, he became the first American to dance with Moscow's famous Bolshoi Ballet. That same year, Bujones established an affiliation with the Boston Ballet as a permanent guest artist. When Baryshnikov left American Ballet Theatre in 1989, Bujones was asked to return in a permanent guest artist role. He remained with American Ballet Theatre until 1995 when he gave his farewell performance.
In addition to working with ballet companies as a dancer, Bujones also had several stints as an artistic director. In 1993, he was named the artistic director of Ballet Mississippi. He remained there until the lack of funding forced the company to fold. Seven years later, Bujones began serving in a similar capacity with the Orlando Ballet. He held this position until his death and had a positive impact on the company's choices of ballets and choreography. Bujones also worked with troupes in Mexico, Brazil, and Spain.
Shortly before he died, Bujones was diagnosed with lung cancer. He succumbed to complications from metastatic melanoma on November 10, 2005; he was 50. Bujones is survived by his parents, his second wife, Peruvian-born dancer Maria Arnillas, and his daughter, Alejandra, from his first marriage to Maria Kubitschek.
Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2005, p. B16; New York Times, November 11, 2005, p. C16; Times (London), November 17, 2005, p. 66; Washington Post, November 11, 2005, p. B7.