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Bay Ballet welcomes new director

Fernando Bujones, the new artistic director of Bay Ballet Theatre, was in town Tuesday to meet members of the community. In an interview, Bujones said he was encouraged by the enthusiasm shown for BBT and confident that the corporate support he needed to make the company into a first-rate organization would be there.

"My goal is artistic excellence," he said. "Tampa is a community hungry for growth and one of the ways you can grow is by becoming culturally rich. The people I have met seem hungry and eager to accept the artistic vision I present to them."

Bujones, 38, an internationally renowned ballet star, said he is excited about returning to Florida. Of Cuban descent, he was born and raised in Miami and said Tampa feels very much like home.

"It is a dream to come to Tampa," he said. "I am thrilled to find that Tampa has such a strong Latin community."

BBT board members said that with the signing of Bujones they have an opportunity to create the kind of dance company the city has always wanted.

"The gauntlet has been dropped for Tampa," said board member Mark Strom. "Quality costs money."

To come to BBT, Bujones will give up his post as artistic director of Ballet Mississippi, based in Jackson. He took that job last September.

Bujones plans to move during the summer to Tampa with his wife Maria Arnillas, also a dancer. He will hold BBT auditions in April.

However, Bujones won't take over until September. The remainder of the 1993-94 season will be in the hands of current artistic director Christopher Fleming, who was hired two years ago when the company was founded. Fleming will not have his contract renewed after the season. "It was presented to me as a business decision," Fleming said Saturday.

BBT dancers continued rehearsals Tuesday, but said that company morale is low. "I call it a travesty because the rug has been pulled out from under us," said Claire McNeiland, who was elected recently to be a representative for the dancers in meetings with management. "Basically, we are out of a job."

Several dancers said that low wages, long rehearsals and other ways in which business was conducted were problems that company representatives were attempting to address in those meetings.