Next week would have been the 56th birthday of Fernando Bujones, who died in 2005 of lung cancer at the age of 50. His potentially most significant protege, Joseph Gorak, is about to compete for the Erik Bruhn Prize in Canada this weekend. The National Ballet of Canada which hosts the competition has made a point of noting that this year commemorates the 25th anniversary of the death of the prize's namesake. Bruhn also died of lung cancer, at the age of 57. He and Bujones danced many of the same roles while with American Ballet Theatre, but Bruhn was closing out his career just as Bujones was asserting his brilliance, and their paths hardly had time to cross. Each danseur was known for distinct and uncompromising clarity in technique and each excelled in allegro-intense ballets such as La Sylphide where the demands of the technique could not be allowed to over-shadow the delicacy of the story.
When Gorak was 14, he joined the trainee program at the Orlando Ballet which was directed by Bujones and shortly thereafter became a member of the company. In a sequence of the documentary, The Extraordinary Journey of Fernando Bujones, the very young Gorak can be seen intensely focused on the barre work during class under the watchful eye of Bujones.
Since joining ABT's corps de ballet about a year ago, after having served a year apprenticeship plus a couple of years in ABT II, Gorak has distinguished himself by executing the corps choreography with uncompromising clarity and precision - so exacting in the smallest details that one couldn't help but notice that without showing off and without straying off the mark, he was just doing the steps better than everyone else. Not differently, just better. Also noticeable was the light in his face when performing and his alertness to what everyone around him was doing - not unlike Angel Corella who seems to be able to engage every last dancer on the crowded stage in a production like Don Quixote. Last year in Lady of the Camellias and later in The Nutcracker, Gorak was entrusted with a few steps outside of the regular corps work and he made them quite memorable. The enormous talent and intensity in this young man are apparent and exciting.
This weekend, Gorak and his partner, the beautiful and talented Christine Shevchenko whose grace reminds one of Julie Kent - an Erik Bruhn Prize winner in 1993 - will perform a PdD from La Sylphide in the competition. Whether either is awarded a prize won't really matter much in the grand scheme of things. We already know some of what the future holds for them.