The only story about the Bolshoi Ballet that could be pinned down yesterday was that members of the famed Soviet troupe spent part of their day off playing tennis, swimming and sunning in brief bikinis and eating grilled hamburgers at a private cookout.
The other story -- the blockbuster report that the Bolshoi, along with other Soviet cultural groups, would appear in Israel in 1989 and therefore mark a new era of Soviet and Israeli ties (an agreement heralded Sunday in Jerusalem by a Soviet-born Israeli impresario) -- was hearsay to the ballet members and tour officials.
"When we left Moscow there wasn't any talk. So when asked, I said it wasn't true," said Viktor Tikhonov, tour director of the Bolshoi. He had initially denied the story but by late yesterday afternoon he was less emphatic. "Maybe now in Moscow they are discussing it. They don't have to tell us." Slowly drawing on a Marlboro, he explained through a translator, "We have plans until 1990, including Japan, Italy, Canada. I just don't know."
The news about a possible trip to Israel apparently wasn't causing a stir among the dancers. Yesterday's main recreation was a bus ride to the Potomac home of political and arts patron Esther Coopersmith, an event that Ina Ginsberg, another fundraiser for the arts, had arranged with Aleksandr Potemkin, the cultural affairs counselor at the Soviet Embassy. Both women, aided by a friend fluent in Russian, stood by the head of the pool and announced where the changing rooms were, where the bar was located and the availability of tennis and basketball. "A little bit later we will have an American-style barbecue," said Coopersmith. "Okay," she yelled. "Okay," a table of beardless young men yelled back.
Retreating to a shady spot under a pine tree was famed ballerina Galina Ulanova. "We hear about it for the first time today," Ulanova said of the possibility the group would go to Israel. "We have very many invitations. While we are on tour we don't know what is happening back home. We have many invitations two or three years in advance. We will be traveling a lot because the Bolshoi Theater is under repairs. We do have another stage. But the company is large and can be divided into two or three companies. Right now there are others in Australia and Spain."
Emerging from a quick swim, Irek Mukhamedov, one of the lead dancers in the Bolshoi's current production "The Golden Age," said simply he didn't know about the pending Israel trip. He preferred to explain that he hadn't joined some of the troupe who had visited the "Helga Pictures" exhibit at the National Gallery of Art but instead had been taken in by the "quiet green" of Washington.
As dinner was being cooked, several dancers walked around, recording the official relaxation with an array of new video cameras. Leonid Nikonov had bought his Hitachi in New York. "It's for his own memory. He has taken a couple of pictures of the performance, a couple on the street. He says when he gets home he can see what he really has," explained a translator.