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'Baryshnikov Has the Publicity,' Boasted Fernando Bujones, Then 19; 'I Have the Talent'

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Hours after the curtain falls on his performance of Giselle, Fernando Bujones, the American Ballet Theatre’s new superstar, rustles in his king-size bed. Disgusted, he leaps out, throws on a red toreador robe and pads across the thick carpeting of his Manhattan apartment. Fiancée Marcia Kubitschek buries her head under the pillow and groans as Fernando begins to hammer nails into the living room wall. “It loosens me up,” he explains, and keeps adding pictures to cover the battered plaster. But what, after all, does Bujones have to be uptight about? At 24 he can hold the stage with the world’s leading dancers—Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov—and is widely regarded as their heir presumptive.

By 1974 the Miami-born Bujones had burst into prominence as the first American to win the gold medal at the Olympics of ballet in Varna, Bulgaria. That coup was eclipsed in the headlines, however, by the defection of Baryshnikov from Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet to the ABT. At the time Bujones groused ungallantly and perhaps unjustly to the press: “Baryshnikov has the publicity. I have the talent.” Fernando was all of 19.

That braggadocio and contentious talk caused Bujones to be tabbed the Muhammad AM of ballet. “I have a big mouth,” he admits, “and I never shut up about anything I disagree with. There is a saying that the baby that cries gets the milk.” Presently Bujones earns up to $5,000 a night for guest appearances.

What makes him big box office is technical precision, a cavalier style and his mastery of the romantic repertoire—especially offstage, where he is ballet’s macho man, or perhaps its Latin lover. His Cuban mother, a former dancer, was divorced from his father, a casino manager, when Fernando was a year old. At 8 he was enrolled in Alicia Alonso’s ballet school in Havana. “My mother decided I was going to be somebody,” Fernando says. “She was very strong about pushing me.” In 1965 she brought him back to the U.S. and got him an audition with Jacques D’Amboise which led to a scholarship at the School of American Ballet. Days she clerked in Manhattan stores and nights she and a cousin coached him relentlessly. Until his liberation a little more than a year ago (by Kubitschek), Bujones still lived with his mother.

He was, however, a backstage Don Juan. “Fernando is a flirt,” blurted one ballerina, “which is better than Misha [Baryshnikov], who’s a pig.” Both dancers had dalliances with prima ballerina Gelsey Kirkland. Fernando knew her first. “We went together as teenagers,” he says. “We used to dream about one day dancing together, but I broke off the romance when I realized dancing together was not everything and that we had different ideas about marriage.”

Three years ago Dame Margot Fonteyn unwittingly proved matchmaker when she recommended Bujones as a guest artist to the Dalai Ashcar Ballet in Rio de Janeiro. Its associate director was (and is) Kubitschek, whose father, Juscelino, had ruled Brazil from 1956 to 1961. Despite obvious drawbacks—she was 11 years older, married to a banker and had just given birth to a second daughter four months before—It became a pas de deux. “When we first danced the samba and I saw her hips moving,” he sighs, “I knew this woman was for me.” She had a “gypsy spirit, yet the sensitivity and maturity to cool me down.” Fernando wrote her 25 love letters in quick succession upon leaving Brazil. “When she got the first one she thought I was crazy,” he remarks. “But after the 25th she began to realize I was serious.”

Flying down to Rio for a rendezvous last August, he picked up a wedding band, on impulse, at the airport. Yet their engagement has dragged on and on. “Divorce,” she says gloomily, “is very difficult in Brazil.” Meanwhile the two have set up housekeeping in an East Side apartment. Her 12-year-old daughter Christine is a novice ballerina at the School of American Ballet. Her 3-year-old, Julia, always breakfasts with “Papa,” as she calls Bujones.

Otherwise it’s a jet-set life—lunch with Pelé, Natalia Makarova dropping by for dinner, Marcia commuting regularly to Brazil to check on her substantial investments. The ever-optimistic Bujones has announced they will be married this summer, but Kubitschek doubts she will be free before December—at the earliest. Nevertheless, explains Fernando: “She is my wife. We just haven’t had a wedding yet.”