A young company with an antique pedigree, that's the reconstituted State Ballet of Georgia, which brought four works choreographed late in the last century or early in this one to UCLA's Royce Hall on Thursday.
If that repertory often challenged the dancers more than the audience, give them time: Georgian-born international star Nina Ananiashvili became artistic director only four years ago and had to virtually start from scratch. Like our even younger Los Angeles Ballet (across campus in the Freud Playhouse this same weekend), impressive talent and inexperience go hand in hand when they take the stage.
The problems arose most consistently on Thursday in "Chaconne," George Balanchine's alternately serene and courtly large-scale suite to music (on tape) by Gluck. Ananiashvili danced the ballerina role as if lost in a beautiful dream, but her partnership with the effortful Vasil Akhmeteli kept the technical difficulties of their duets more evident than their rapt lyricism.
Generally, the Tbilisi dancers brought freshness and exactitude to the more conventional step combinations here but looked decidedly uncomfortable in the many experimental ones.
The trio (Rusudan Kvitsiani, Ekaterine Chubinidze, Otar Khelashvili) proved especially ill at ease, and a secondary duet (Maya Dolidze, David Khozashvili) started promisingly but grew progressively shaky.
Unfortunately, an errant follow-spot added to the disarray and all but wrecked the haunting final sequence in "Duo Concertant," Balanchine's mercurial duet in which the dancers stand listening to a Stravinsky piece for piano and violin (played onstage by Liam Viney and Roberto Cani) and then begin an increasingly involving partnership.
If you could scarcely see them in the finale, Nino Gogua and Lasha Khozashvili danced the other, brighter sections gorgeously, their youth, charm and spontaneity gilding the choreography and making it seem an inspired improvisation.
With "Bizet Variations," Bolshoi Ballet artistic director Alexei Ratmansky contributed a formula, quasi-romantic exercise for three couples -- not as unwatchable as his "Pierrot Lunaire" for Diana Vishneva and company in Costa Mesa last week but just as fundamentally soulless.
This is one of those ballets in which the men have some freedom to actually dance (and get assigned off-the-rack bravura, for the most part) but the women are continually yanked about and hauled overhead, subordinated to the partnering. Again cast opposite Akhmeteli (playing a flamboyant outsider), Ananiashvili alone brought the sense of an inner life to the choreography -- even to simple walking steps and absolute stillness. And Anna Grinberg played the somber "Chromatic Variations" powerfully.
"Sagalobeli" used taped Georgian folk music played by the musical ensemble of the same name to accompany a divertissement suggesting the twisty fervor and nervy elegance of the nation's ethnic dances but managed to avoid both extreme classical abstraction and opera-ballet literalism.
Like Ananiashvili, choreographer Yuri Possokhov began as a dancer at the Bolshoi but spent most of his career outside Russia -- at San Francisco Ballet.
Although his concept was prefigured, and trumped, by the late Maurice Bejart in such works as "Golestan," and Possokhov often rode roughshod over bold changes in the music's tempos and instrumentation, the dancers made an exciting case for "Sagalobeli," projecting its exotic technical qualities with great skill.
The piece began and ended with the men, but the most original choreography turned up in an undulating women's quartet invaded and dominated by Anna Muradeli, who then soloed, her movement at once lush and passionate, liquid yet perfectly centered. Gogua and the omnipresent Akhmeteli danced the inevitable, conventional pas de deux.
Mostly executed in browns and beiges, Anna Kalatozishvili's costumes adroitly enhanced the women's hyper-extended line and the men's heightened muscularity. The company ends its UCLA Live engagement with three performances of "Giselle" today and Sunday.
State Ballet of Georgia
Where: Royce Hall, UCLA
When: 2 and 8 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Sunday
Price: $34 to $90
Contact: (310) 825-2101 or www.uclalive.org