BALTIMORE -- Making hay while the sun shines is an impulse not bound by cultural borders. In the present case, the "sun" consists of the warming beams of glasnost, in the light of which Russian dancers and American impresarios have been making haste to cement arrangements for mutual benefit. To wit, the launching of a two-month, 21-city national tour here Thursday night by the Moscow Ballet, a company of 31 mostly unknown Soviet dancers headed by Bolshoi Ballet star Vyacheslav Gordeyev.
The result, if one goes by the troupe's debut program, is a motley conglomerate of experienced, fitfully brilliant old pros; eager, gifted but uneven youngsters; and a repertory of classical warhorses packaged for travel, flashy or mawkish display pieces from the 19th and early 20th centuries and a smattering of modernesque numbers with choreography by Gordeyev.
The Moscow Ballet has some parallels in this country in the form of the smallish touring troupes organized ad hoc by well-known dancers of larger ballet companies to provide artistic challenges not obtainable in their home troupes as well as supplemental income. The motivations in the case of the Moscow Ballet are not dissimilar.
The artistic outcome, however, is altogether distinct -- these Russians have a capacity for naively blatant kitsch that present-day American performers would find embarrassing. Even in this country, though, there is a dance public still ready to wallow in such material, as the hearty reception for the Moscow Ballet at the sold-out Lyric Opera House opening night quite plainly showed.
The performance, the first of four in Baltimore, lasted well over three hours. It started off with an abbreviated version of the "Kingdom of the Shades" scene from "La Bayadere" that epitomized the antipodal contrasts of the program. The principals -- Natalya Tchekovskaya as Nikya and Vasili Polushin as Solor -- were extremely good-looking young dancers of considerable physical and expressive gifts, but also conspicuous artistic immaturity. The ensemble of 16 women -- the chorus of Shades -- was even more drastically uneven: some strong, some weak, some stylistically aware, some hopelessly beyond their depth. The dancing in the opening section -- the celebrated descent from the ramp in spiraling rows -- was remarkably sloppy, on a level not beyond that of a school recital. Yet here and there one noticed dancers of lavish promise and isolated phrases of great plastic beauty.
The second part of the program, given over mostly to brief excerpts or duets, was as esthetically variegated as the dancing had been in "Bayadere." Gordeyev made a first stage appearance partnering a poetically poignant Maria Philipencko in "Melody," a slushy pas de deux choreographed by Asaf Messerer to familiar music by Gluck (heard on tape, as was all the music). The evening reached its pyrotechnic high points in the astonishingly buoyant levitations of Vadim Pisarev, a cherubic guest artist, winner of numerous international competitions, who looks scarcely old enough to shave. He was seen in a folkloristic "Gopak," and, bare-chested in a mock tiger skin, partnering Marina Bogdanova in a "Diane and Acteon" duet.
Of the two short pieces choreographed by Gordeyev and included in this part of the program, the more impressive was the extravagantly melodramatic "Paganini," set to a lugubriously bloated arrangement -- for organ and strings -- of a Handel keyboard passacaglia. A lurid duet for two men (Sergei Ankudinou and Igor Mozghykhin) portraying the obsessed violinist and a predatory demon, stylistically it looked like a cross between Roland Petit and Maurice Bejart.
The third and last portion of the program was a highly condensed version of "Don Quixote" (based on the staging by Alexander Gorsky) featuring Gordeyev and guest artist Lubov Kunakova of the Kirov Ballet. The latter, a Valkyrie of a ballerina, had the athletic strength but little of the seductive quality one looks for in a Kitri, and the whole performance was rather mechanical in its effects. Gordeyev, at 39, retains much of the patrician line and gusto of former years, but seems strained as Basile, both technically and in characterization.
At a preperformance press conference, Gordeyev explained that the Moscow Ballet, founded in 1979, combines guest principals from major Russian companies, such as the Bolshoi and the Kirov, with young dancers recruited from the Soviet Union's 18 major classical academies. The guest artists, including Gordeyev himself, retain their membership in larger companies, but work with the Moscow Ballet for the opportunity it affords them to appear in ballets outside the limited traditional repertory. The current tour, the troupe's first in this country, includes such cities as Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago, but most of the stops are in smaller cities, ranging from Columbia, S.C., to Syracuse, N.Y.