Strange how disconcerting the mere substitution of one dancer for another in a well-known ballet can be. In the production of Balanchine's "Serenade" presented by the Israel Ballet this weekend at Baltimore's Lyric Theatre, the two leading male roles were split into three, danced by two alternating men, and those who have been trying to figure out the "story" in "Serenade" for years were confronted with new, if confusing, clues.

In "Serenade," as well as the other works on the program, the Israel Ballet proved to be a young, fresh, energetic group with a strong collective technique and sense of ensemble. The athleticism and abruptness of the women in "Serenade" turned the usually softly romantic pas de trois of the "Elegie" section into a battle among rivals, but the precision and speed of the corps throughout made this an exceptional performance.

Artistic Director Berta Yampolsky's "Carmen," if it lacks the stylish flair of Roland Petit's ballet of the same name, is a theatrically effective work that provides good roles for all its gypsies, smugglers and miscellaneous Spaniards. It gave Graciela Kaplan (Carmen), Paul Weller (Don Jose) and Erez Dror (Escamillio) the chance to show off their strong techniques and dramatic power.

The company was wasted on Heinz Spoerli's "Opus 35," a "pure dance" work too cute for words, and much too cute for its Shostakovitch score. Dror, the company's resident technician, led the romp and the whole company danced with an infectious spirit that makes one hope the Israel Ballet will return for a longer visit.