It was a menagerie of movement, a delight for everyone, and a fitting tribute to one of Boston's finest cultural institutions. To celebrate its two decades of residence here, the Boston Ballet gave the community a special gift last weekend at the Colonial Theatre. In its ''Gala Week'' program, it presented the full range of its repertoire: 11 classic, contemporary, and modern dances.
One piece proved to be a very special gift. The evening began with the youngsters - members of the company's School of Ballet - moving their little feet through Sydney Leonard's ''Defilade.'' On their heels came a pleasant and well-executed ''Album,'' followed by ''Tarantella,'' danced with spark and wit by principals Anamarie Sarazin and Christopher Aponte.
The company's true genius began to shine with the enchanting ''Sea Alliance, '' a revival of a 1967 work by founder E. Virginia Williams. It was one of two showcases for fast-rising Alexander Proia - a tall, lithe dancer who, although still unsteady on technique (especially turns), inspired with his marvelous arcing leaps and his genuine affection for his partner, Dierdre Myles.
''Madrilene Pas de Deux'' and ''Jeu de Cartes'' were less satisfying. Another disappointment was Chinese Da Yong Zhang's studied, deliberate debut as a soloist in ''Variation From Act III - Sylvia.''
Then came the fireworks: the world premiere of Ron Cunningham's ''XIth Commandment Suite,'' with subtitle Thou shalt dance. And did they ever. Mr. Proia and Denise Pons performed this celebration of modern-jazz movement - hips swirling, legs kicking, and bodies whirling - with near-perfect precision.
The two solos that followed could sum up the whole evening - and the company's excellent repertoire. First, Elaine Bauer gave a stunning rendering of the classical ballet landmark ''The Dying Swan,'' her arms quivering until the moment of death. Then, at the other end of the dance spectrum, with Christopher Aponte's ''Avec L'Esprit de Mon Ami.'' This was the special surprise I mentioned before.
The first two parts of this piece, a three-section solo danced by Mr. Aponte, premiered last spring at Paris's Olympia Theatre. Patti Smith's songs of social protest, ''Elegie'' and ''Ghost Dance,'' were a perfect vehicle for Aponte's powerful and deeply emotional performance. Aponte surged about the stage, his muscular frame becoming an engine for dramatic barrel turns and flying sit spins.
To George Benson's version of the Beatles' ''Here Comes the Sun,'' Aponte lunged, reached, and poured out his body. One particularly poignant moment came when he cupped his hands as though they held the sun, then turned to shine it toward the audience.
Many dances can move you and evoke deep feelings, but this one did more: He became hope - an expression of the promise of morning, of daylight for the human spirit. It left this viewer changed, infused with the artist's vision of perpetual rebirth.