The Virginia Ballet Company is 12 years old, but for one reason or another I haven't managed to catch up with them this weekend's performance of "Sleeping Beauty" at Fairfax High School.

I must say it was an eye-opener. The troupe's directors, Tina Rousseau and Oleg Tupine, insist that the production be regarded as only a "school performance." It is that, but the work "only" is misleading - this is a far more artistically accomplished enterprise than school performances generally have a right to be. And the dancing, both technically and stylistically, reflects a level of training equal, and in some respects, superior to any comparable pre-professional efforts in the Washington area.

Tupine and Rousseau have notable backgrounds. Rousseau studied with Olga Preobrejauska in Paris and dance with several French companies. Tupine, a former ballet master of the National Ballet, was a principal with two successor troupes to the Diaghilev Ballets Russes. What's apropos, though, is that the rigor they acquired is mirrored unmistakeably in their pupils - in their phrasing, their turnout, their port-de-bras, their stage deportment and their musicality. There's quite a range of ability and potential among these dancers, most of them under 17, but a few can manage respectable series of fouettes, and all are leaning not just what classical ballet, but what performance is all about.

Rousseau has choreographed a version of "Sleeping Beauty" that captures the spirit of the fairy tale and Tchaikovsky's music, is respectful of tradition, but does not ask more of the dancers than they are able to give. Not the least of its pleasures is the recording used - an out-of-print interpretation by Antal Dorati and Minneapolis Symphony is absolutely first-rate.