If you have never thought vice seemed ugly or painful enough on the dance stage, consider the Gyor Ballet's "The Miraculous Mandarin." There were moments in this production that seared the eye as brutally as Bela Barto'k's dissonances scorched the ear.

Baltimore's Theatre of Nations festival presented the Hungarian dance troupe last week at Essex Community College, with "Mandarin" as the trump on a triple bill that also featured a version of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" and "Mechanical Garden" with music by Schmidt, Spoerri and Szabados. The choreographer for all the works was Ivan Marko, formerly a star of Maurice Bejart's Brussels-based Ballet of the 20th Century.

Marko has learned a few things from Bejart. He made one aware of the dancers' flesh, sweat and breath. There was a modern look to the movement. In the Orff work (called "The Lovers of the Sun") and "Mechanical Garden," the pliancy of bodies and plasticity of limbs created a choreography of sensual surfaces. Underneath, though, there was a lack of real muscle.

Weight, tension, thrust and the whole range of conflicting motor dynamics that is modern dance's glory were replaced by a sort of balletic aerobics. This, together with Marko's reliance on group cohesion and a limited number of formal steps, made the actual dancing monotonous.

It was quite possible, though, to become distracted by the cast. The men, in particular, weren't strong technicians, but they worked as hard as the women to project themselves across the footlights. One began to like these dancers as eager salespeople. They made the literal musicality and abstract emotions of the first two pieces almost palatable.sw sk

"The Miraculous Mandarin" was different because of its specificity, its subject matter. Marko has changed the familiar story. A girl is gang-raped, drugged and battered. She, not her lover, becomes the "mandarin," the martyr. The action is sometimes so lurid that it demands (and gets) toughness from the dancers. There is so much detail that the movement can't forever peak with the musical climaxes. Marko's "Miraculous Mandarin" may be to true ballet what Madame Tussaud's waxwork horrors are to sculpture, but it was certainly a tourist attraction.

At the opening Wednesday, the best individual performances were Barbara Bombicz's Earth Mother in "The Lovers of the Sun" and the Raped Girl in the Bartok, and Andrea Ladanyi's Woman in "Mechanical Garden." The Gyor Ballet's designers (Judith Gombar, Gabor Forrai and Janos Hani) for sets, costumes and lights used minimal means to create vivid effects.

In a dance performance, more than effects are required of the choreography, and Ivan Marko, who was a fine classical dancer, shirked this command of technique in creating ballets.