SAN FRANCISCO — RECENT cultural exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union goes beyond the visit of the Bolshoi Ballet two years ago and of the Kirov slated for this spring. In the past year, two Bolshoi principals danced four performances with the New York City Ballet; an American Ballet Theatre dancer, Susan Jaffee, performed with the Kirov in Russia; and Andris Liepa is currently featured in Mikhail Baryshnikov's new version of ``Swan Lake.'' And now, four Soviet dancers are touring the United States with an American company. A couple from the Bolshoi, Alla Khaniashvili-Artiushkina and Vitaly Artiushkin, and a couple from the Kiev Ballet, Evgenia Kostyleva and Anatoli Kucheruk, are dancing not only in the Ballet of Los Angeles's own repertory but also in a work choreographed especially for them by American John Clifford.
These medal winners are eager to learn the choreography of George Balanchine, who is revered in the Soviet Union. Mr. Clifford, formerly a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, founded the Ballet of Los Angeles in 1987 with Allegra Kent. Ms. Kent was a principal with New York City Ballet beginning in 1953, and came out of retirement to dance ``Notturno,'' choreographed for her delicate lyricism by Clifford for this tour.
Backstage before a performance, Clifford remarks that the four Russian dancers learned both new ballets for the tour in four days of rehearsal. They take daily classes from Clifford in Balanchine technique, which is quicker and more dense with steps than the Russian style. Clifford says both Russian ballerinas were panting after performing ``Allegro Brillante'': ``They're not used to dancing so much at one time on the stage without breaks.''
The Russians also are accustomed to performing only once or twice a week. On the other hand, Clifford adds, ``They were shocked to hear my dancers speaking of `layoff' after the tour. I think their time with our company has taught my dancers to be more appreciative of what we have.''
Alla taught a class to advanced students at the Marin Ballet while in San Francisco. Dressed in red high-top sneakers and blue jeans, she showed American dance students the differences between their training and hers, which is part of a strict system founded by the Russian teacher Vaganova.
Laughing, Alla told the students to keep their upper body relaxed ``like the strings on a guitar'' while working the legs, and demonstrated a ``sisonne,'' in which both legs go up into the air in a split leap that made the class gasp in unison.
Afterwards, she and her tall, handsome husband, Vitaly, talk about dancing with Americans. ``We have the same basis,'' Vitaly explains. ``The classical technique is exactly alike in both countries, but the Russians are trained to dance much broader and bolder.'' Alla's eyes went wide when describing her introduction to Balanchine. ``His steps are so much faster - the women's bourr'ees and pirouettes!''
Forty-five minutes before curtain, Evgenia and Anatoli are still ironing out rough spots. As they talk in Russian, their manager translates for Clifford as he demonstrates, speaking to them in French and some Russian he has managed to pick up. ``You see,'' he explains, ``she's afraid of being off her balance. In Russia, the ballerina is always on balance, even when being partnered. Balanchine choreography requires being off-balance. It's fast, it's risky.''