BY THE AGE of 80, most artists are content to rest on their laurels. Washington dance matriarch Pola Nirenska has chosen instead to mark the occasion by presenting a program of new and recent works based on her Holocaust experiences.

Born in Warsaw to Jewish parents, Nirenska studied and performed with the groundbreaking German choreographer Mary Wigman. After receiving first prize in the 1934 International Dance Competition in Vienna for a composition of her own, she began a solo career that was soon interrupted by Hitler's declaration of war. On tour in Italy at the time, she fled to England, which became her home for the next dozen years. In 1949 she moved permanently to this country, and eventually established both a school and a company here in Washington. Since that time, this feisty and passionate woman has proven an inspiration to many local artists.

Nirenska's work harks back to a time when modern dancers cared deeply about expressing the most basic emotions and social issues by means of weighty, fervent movement and absolute clarity of gesture. Her group work "Dirge" brings to life a small, close-knit community of Holocaust victims in the simplest, but most gut-wrenching, ways; the solo "Shout" truly physicalizes that title. What makes Nirenska's work so timeless is her ability to blend raw emotion with artistic craft.

Participating in this one-of-a-kind program are Sharon Wyrrick, Rima Faber, Paula Camilli, Heather Doerbecker, Meryl W-Shapiro, Jan Taylor and Carrie Wilcox.

THE LEGENDARY Moscow-based Bolshoi Ballet continues its Wolf Trap run with a weekend of "Giselles." Known for its ultra-histrionic, athletic style, the company -- under the direction of veteran director Yuri Grigorovich -- is currently introducing American audiences to a new generation of dancers. These youthful virtuosos include Mark Peretokin, who will dance the lead role of the romantic cad Albrecht in Friday evening's performance, opposite Nina Semizorova in the title role. The brilliant Nina Ananiashvili -- who recently spent time studying the works of the late George Balanchine and performing as guest artist with the New York City Ballet -- shares the stage Saturday with the electrifying Aleksei Fadeyechev. Lyudmilla Semenyaka and Yuri Posokhov appear as Giselle and Albrecht Sunday.