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A year and a half after the launch of Neglia Ballet Artists, the company's directors find themselves facing an unenviable challenge.

To wit, how do they maintain a consistent stable of performers in a city lean on professional-caliber talent?

As of Friday night's performance, they were still searching for solutions. Billed as "An Intimate Evening of Dance," this was the Ballet Artists' second mixed-repertoire program since its inception. The number of core dancers remains the same, a cozy four. Yet with two members of the original group gone, the company couldn't match the artistic depth of its maiden performance.

Co-founder Sergio Neglia and his dance partner Sherri Campagni are the foundation of the troupe. They're an elegantly confident pair, well-suited physically and temperamentally. After six years together, they have a keen sense of timing and an egalitarian approach to partnering that you don't often see. These qualities consumed the pas de deux from "Spartacus," the evening's highlight. With its strikingly inventive lifts and warm romance, "Spartacus" could become the couple's signature piece.

Neglia and Campagni explored a rawer side of sexuality in "Carmen." One of three ballets on the bill choreographed by Mark Diamond, "Carmen" has been compressed almost beyond recognition.

We're thrust into the story midway through the action, after Carmen's arrest. We see no buildup of passion between the title character (Campagni) and Jose (Neglia). The edited adaptation forsakes coherence in the name of economy. Given this awkward structure, we're forced to detach ourselves from the drama, despite the dancers' heartfelt efforts.

Hernan Justo, who first performed with Neglia Ballet Artists in the fall production of "Romeo and Juliet," appears here as the toreador rivaling Jose for Carmen's affections. The artistic director of the Carolina Ballet Theatre in Greenville, S.C., Justo is Neglia's opposite in many ways. Justo towers over Neglia, but it's Neglia who has the towering stage presence.

Where Neglia commands an audience with wiry energy, Justo looks as if he's sinking into himself. Though it's a common practice for dance companies to import guest artists for productions, I can't understand why they didn't hire one who pointed his feet.

Rounding out the foursome was the company's co-founder, Heidi Halt. An injury sidelined her for some time, but she returns showing off a flair for the character-driven solo from Diamond's " '20s Suite." Though she has a nicely expressive upper body, Halt hasn't regained the strength that would put her on par with Campagni.

Chanon Judson juiced up the night with a giddy solo set to Otis Redding's "Tenderness," choreographed by local tap and jazz teacher Matthew Clark.

With her rhythmic torso and infectious joy, she was a bright spot in an otherwise spotty program.

Neglia Ballet Artists

Friday evening in Nichols School's Flickinger Performing Arts Center.

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