The world heard about them when one of their dancers defected in Texas. By the end of their 21-city tour of America, performing 66 times in 60 days, audiences will know the Moscow Ballet as a group with a unique dance vision. Unlike the Kirov or the Bolshoi, the Moscow Ballet is a company of soloists, performing primarily modern works, especially those choreographed by its artistic director, Vyacheslav Gordeyev. Also a principal dancer with the Bolshoi, Mr. Gordeyev took over the ballet 2 years ago. In his daily uniform of jeans and a Moscow Ballet souvenir sweat shirt, Gordeyev explained that the troupe ``was very interesting to me in the first place because it is international - almost all the Soviet nationalities are represented as well as Italy and Germany.''
Founded in 1979, the company is composed of soloists recruited from all over the Soviet Union, with its primary goal being to tour. For America, Gordeyev has supplemented the 22 members with 10 principals from other Soviet theater ballets to accommodate American taste for long, classical works. Six months before coming to America, the company worked exclusively on ``Don Quixote,'' ``La Bayad`ere,'' and ``Swan Lake'' to add to their repertory of bravura pas de deux. ``This was an additional complexity,'' says Gordeyev, ``because we were continuing to give performances while working up those new ballets for the tour.''
In the future, Gordeyev has in mind ``staging works which are rarely performed,'' he says. ``I want my company to do ballets no one else is doing. A lot of performances are created specifically for our group - only now they must be small. When we get our own theater in the center of Moscow at the end of next year, we'll do larger works.''
Gordeyev's choreography is a highlight of the current tour, which ends, after an engagement at the New York City Center, on Nov. 28.
``Passacaglia'' is a duet for two men, Sergei Ankhudinov and Igor Maszukhin, one in white, the other in red with a black cross painted over his eyes and nose. This alter ego cajoles and commands the heroic figure, ending strung over the white figure's back, his legs played like a fiddle and bow to Paganini music. ``Melody of Love,'' on the other hand, is a sensuous pas de deux for Maria Filipenko and Igor Mikhailov, who entwine their bodies with floating ease in an array of sinewy postures.
The lithe Filipenko shows up with her husband, Alexander, in the ``Spring Waters'' pas de deux, a Russian standard associated with the Bolshoi, in which gasps are elicited from the audience by headfirst flying leaps halfway across the stage into her partner's arms and the obligatory one-handed lift high over her partner's head.
What sets this company apart from the Bolshoi, which preceded it to the United States by only two months, is youthful verve. The vigorous, raw athleticism of Russian technique is tempered by a joyous delight in performing. In every city of the tour so far, sold-out houses have leaped to their feet with boisterous ovations.
This excitement was due in part to a tiny ball of fire, Vadim Pisarev. Better than Baryshnikov technically - though not as charismatic - Mr. Pisarev pirouettes faster than the eye can see. He stops on a dime, then leaps high with more turns and twists and configurations than anybody seems capable of. The 23-year-old Pisarev will not be seen again in this country, as he returns after this tour to his home company at the Donyetska Theatre.
The same goes for Gordeyev's partner on this tour, the 19-year-old Kuznetzova, from a Siberian theater. The Moscow Ballet has thus given America the rare opportunity to see dancers from all over the USSR whose home companies don't tour.
As for the man making all the news - defector Andrei Ustinov - his partner Lyubov Kunakova is dancing solos such as Lilac Fairy in ``Sleeping Beauty'' for the rest of the tour, since he was her most effective partner.
Producer William Merriman and his partner, David Hermon, stayed behind in Dallas to handle repercussions. ``We didn't know for two days where Andrei was, and we were worried. He didn't speak English, and we thought he might be lost.''
Gordeyev insists company morale was not affected by the Dallas incident but added that ``it's incomprehensible to me why it happened, and we regret it very much.''