The Miami Herald
Fri, Nov. 11, 2005

Ballet star dies; 'opened doors' for a generation



Fernando Bujones, the Miami-born Cuban-American dancer who was one of the greatest stars of American ballet and opened doors for a new generation of Latinos in dance, died early Thursday morning at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was 50 years old. The cause of death was cancer.

The dance world was shocked by the sudden death of Bujones, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in late September, and subsequently with malignant melanoma. In the last five years he had forged a second career as artistic director of Orlando Ballet.

''Oh my God, why so young? He had so much to give,'' said Lydia Diaz Cruz DeLeon, a Cuban-trained dancer who performed with Bujones and was a close family friend. '

''Fernando will be missed as a friend and colleague by so many people,'' added Kevin McKenzie, artistic director of American Ballet Theater, and a dancer there when Bujones was one of its superstars in the 1970s and '80s. ``He will be remembered as an inspiration and an example by many more.''

Bujones rose to stardom in the 1970s, one of an elite group of charismatic male dancers who inspired an era of unprecedented popularity for dance.

''He was one of the great dancers of his age,'' said Edward Villella, artistic director of Miami City Ballet, who often saw the teenaged Bujones in ballet class in New York in the 1970s when Villella was a star at New York City Ballet. ``He was like this puppy who we all knew would grow into this amazing dancer''

Bujones joined ABT in 1972 as a 17-year-old prodigy. He came into his own in 1974, when he became the first male American dancer to win the gold medal at the International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria.

''Fernando Bujones was one of the greatest of all American male dancers,'' said Clive Barnes, dance critic at the New York Post. "He had a flawless technique, could jump like a panther, and could turn like a spindle.''

He was the first Latino dancer after the legendary Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso to make an international mark. He was born in Miami while his mother was here on a family visit. He began studying ballet in Cuba at age 7. The family left for Miami in 1964, when Bujones was 9, and two years later he received a scholarship to study at the New York City Ballet.

Bujones' success paved the way for the current generation of Hispanic stars, including Cuba's Carlos Acosta and Spain's Angel Corella, now prominent at major ballet companies around the world.

''He truly opened doors so that the talent and capacity of Hispanic dancers could be known'' said Pedro Pablo Peña, director of Miami's International Ballet Festival, which presented Bujones with its Life For Dance Award in 1998.

Bujones stayed with ABT until 1985, then danced with Boston Ballet from 1987 to 1993. In the next seven years he led several fledgling troupes, including the semi-amateur Miami Ballet, then settled in Hallandale while he taught, choreographed, and worked as part-time artistic director at various schools and companies. In 2000 he seemed to have found stability as artistic director of Orlando Ballet.

In 1998 he told the Herald he was happy in his new role. ''I have grown to love teaching,'' he said. ``I am very proud of what I have done, but it's not something I think about day in and day out.''

Bujones is survived by his wife, Maria Bujones, their daughter Alejandra, his mother, Maria Calleiro, his father, Fernando Bujones Sr., and by Zeida Cecilia Mendez, his coach since childhood. Viewing takes place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday at Rivero Funeral Homes, 3344 SW 8th St., Miami. Services will be held at Rivero Funeral Homes at 9 a.m. Monday; the burial will be at Woodlawn Park North Cemetery, 3260 SW 8th St., Miami.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the Fernando Bujones Endowment Fund at Orlando Ballet, at 1111 North Orange Ave., Orlando, FL, 32804, 407-426-1733,