You don't have to know much about ballet to see Fernando Bujones was extraordinary. The graceful lines, the effortless athleticism -- if Bujones was overshadowed by certain sex-symbol Russians during his dancing days, it certainly wasn't because of any shortcoming onstage.
Israel Rodriguez's The Extraordinary Journey of Fernando Bujones uses generous samples of the dancing of the late Orlando Ballet artistic director and interviews with his peers to remind us how special Bujones was.
Landing Malcolm McDowell (who starred in Robert Altman's ballet film The Company) to give the film its triumphant narration, scoring interviews with those who raised Bujones, taught him dance, were inspired by him and loved him, Rodriguez has made a film that will open the eyes of those who didn't realize the giant who lived and worked in our midst, staging his own ballets Spartacus and Jazz Swing and classic repertoire at Orlando Ballet.
The film captures Bujones teaching, inspiring his students and corps with the same sort of Jacques d'Amboise spirit (the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary himself, who appears here) that you want from a great teacher.
"There was a nobility, a seriousness" to Bujones, even as a child, notes d'Amboise.
The film showcases the high points of Bujones' life, the early, early training that won him places in ballet schools and as principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre at ridiculously young ages. The Varna competition that he won in 1974? Overshadowed by a certain Russian's defection that same week.
We can laugh at the sniping rivalry between Bujones, "the bad boy of American Ballet Theatre," with Russian expat Mikhail Baryshnikov in the '70s and '80s. The film lets us appreciate the perfect lines, the elegance and grace that invited comparison to the more famous, more accomplished "Misha." A "prince of ballet," they called Bujones. He performed with 60 companies in 34 countries during his career.
The documentary was shot, unfortunately, in standard-definition grainy video, not HD. Some of the interviews are more revealing than others, and some of the quotes Rodriguez chose betray his inexperience as an interviewer and editor. If you get a few minutes with Nancy Raffa at American Ballet Theatre or the great Jacques d'Amboise, you need to get more from them on Bujones than "he was just great."
But Extraordinary Life does back up its title in showcasing the making, maturation and legacy of an artist whose impact will outlive him here in Orlando.
Roger Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5369.
'The Extraordinary Journey of Fernando Bujones'*** (3 of 5 stars)
- Cast: Fernando Bujones, Jacques d'Amboise, Nancy Raffa.
- Director: Israel Rodriguez.
- Running time: 55 minutes.
- Industry rating: Unrated, family-friendly.