What a difference a year -- or, more precisely, 22 months -- has made to the dancers of the Soviet Union's Donetsk Ballet.
In February of last year, the Donetsk opened at the Lyric Opera House what was to have been a 15-city tour of the United States. But when the California promoters lost their expected financing, the tour was suspended and the troupe's dancers were stranded here without living expenses for more than a week, with their plight putting them in the national spotlight.
Today , the Donetsk returns to the Lyric for a 10-day run of "The Nutcracker," the culmination of a monthlong, four-city tour. This time, the troupe is receiving attention for its dancing.
"The cities we've been to so far [Atlanta; Hickory, N.C.; Rochester, N.Y.] we've never been to before," Vadim Pisarev, the troupe's general director and principal dancer, said last week in a telephone interview. "Despite this fact, our performances were virtually sold out and we received standing ovations."
The crowds also promise to be different at the Lyric. Last year, the highly regarded but then-little-known troupe from the Ukraine received little advance notice and performed before half-empty houses. This year, ticket sales have been so brisk that BACI Management, the locally based company promoting the tour, has added four more performances to the schedule.
Although this is the first time the Donetsk has performed in the United States since its ill-fated 1989 tour, Mr. Pisarev said through an interpreter that there was "no reluctance coming back."
"The warm relationships made outweigh the bad memories," he said.
The 25-year-old dancer mentioned specifically the help of Robert Pomory, the Lyric's president, who provided several thousand dollars of his own money and that of the opera house to help support the dancers while they were stranded here. He also cited Howard Gilman, the head of a New York foundation that provided money to eventually revive the tour.
"The problems helped me to grow," Mr. Pisarev said.
Asked to elaborate, he added: "Essentially, we didn't know who we were dealing with last time. And we really went out on our own, without the help of the Soviet [arts] organization. Now, that's all changed."
The Donetsk got to know BACI, for example, when the company co-promoted the Richmond, Va., leg of the resuscitated 1989 tour.
In addition to the warm relationships, the Donetsk returned to the Ukraine with some glowing reviews of its performances. The New York Times, reviewing the performance here of "Giselle," called the company a "troupe with a beautifully schooled corps [and] stylistic coherence."
Mr. Pisarev, whose wife/partner Inna Dorofeyeva is the company's principal female dancer, said performing "The Nutcracker" has particular significance for him.
" 'The Nutcracker' being one of the best-known ballets of the classical repertoire is very important to me," he said. "It gives me a chance to excel technically. This is one of my strongest points."
The Donetsk Ballet
Where: The Lyric Opera House, West Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street.
When: Today , tomorrow and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dec. 27 at 2 p.m.; Dec. 29 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Dec. 30 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $17.50 to $29.50.
Call: 481-6000 to charge tickets; 889-3900 for information.