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Makarova -- and Co.?

The first big event of the new dance season is raising some big questions. Why was Natalia Makarova, the world-famous ballerina, formed her own troupe when she is in such demand as a guest artist? Is her directorial-pedagogical instinct so irrepressible as to warrant the responsibilities of her own company?

Which brings one to the crux of the puzzle: Is the four-week season of Makarova and Company at the Uris Theater the beginning of something enduring, or is it one of those Nureyev and Friends novelty acts?

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The signals are mixed. Unlike Nureyev, who hires out existing companies and productions, Makarova has drawn a brand-new ensemble from the senior classes of leading ballet schools, and has also commissioned new choreography and new productions of classics. This bodes weel, but her troupe is top-heavy with guest artists whose commitments are basically elsewhere. Furthermore, the opening-week program, which began Oct. 7 and will alternate with other bills until Nov. 2, evidences a jumble of taste and conviction.

As would always be the case, the program's meat course was provided by Petipa -- in this case, the big divertissement from "Paquita," staged, as Makarova recalls it, from her days with teh Leningrad Kirov Ballet. There are big problems with this production, but at least it's a true ensemble number and a glorious array of dancing to boot. The two other dances are dubious. Maurice Bejart's "Sonata No. 5 for Harpsichord and Violin," to Bach, is viable only as a showcase for Makarova and guest artist No. 1, Anthony Dowell. That's OK as far as it goes, but one wants to believe that Makarova and Company is more than a vehicle for the lady in charge.

The premire, Lorca Massine's "Vendetta," is about hip-swiveling, fire-spewing gypsies. Whether it's a farce by intent or accident, it is inept enough to cast Makarova's whole role as artistic director into doubt.

As of the first week, then, it all boils down to "Paquita." It was a generally uneven, even strange experience. Viewed one by one, as Petipa generously allows us to do, each of the girls in the ensemble had a lovely freshness and a genuine feel for the noble Russian style that "Paquita" epitomizes. The musicality of Antonia Franceschi, Nancy Raffa, and Harriet Clark in their solos was sheer pleasure and really quite amazing, considering their youth. Seen as a complete picture, however, the ensemble looked flat and dry.

It seems that Makarova knows how to apply her knowledge to specifics -- this dancer's turn of the head, the positioning of another's back -- but that she does not yet know how to populate a stage gracefully. (Admittedly, the shallowness of the Uris stage is no help.) And while the rhythm of each variation was clean and thoughtful, the rhythm of the whole divertissement often flagged. The grandeur of the big adagio and vivacity of the finale were missing as a general effect, while, second for second, differences in dynamics did exist.

Attention to specifics is the work of a coach. The thrust of a production is the work of a director. Makarova has yet to show her directorial mettle. Upon that emergence hangs the emergence of a genuine company.

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