A major cultural coup has been staged by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, which engineered a partnership with the prestigious Kirov Ballet company to create a lavish ballet academy in Washington, D.C.

It marks the first time the Kirov has entered into such an agreement with an American organization. The partnership between the ballet and the church, whose members are sometimes referred to as Moonies, is raising eyebrows throughout the ballet community.Instructors for the new Universal Ballet Academy are currently touring the United States to recruit students ages 8 through 20. The academy is scheduled to open Sept. 5.

The academy's faculty will include members of the Kirov, Leningrad, Moscow and Perm Ballet institutes in the Soviet Union.

Oleg Vinogradov, director of the Kirov Ballet, is academy director. He is not a member of the Unification Church. He reportedly will divide his time between the two positions.

Vinogradov's wife, Yelena, has confirmed that her husband had signed a contract to direct the academy. She commented on the beautiful working facilities at the new school, and explained that while she was aware of the academy's connection with the church, she said she came to America to do a particular job and the finances for the project did not concern her in the least.

According to Jeffrey Benson, director of operations for the academy and a member of the Unification Church, the academy is not a project of the church, but is financed by the Universal Ballet Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that receives money from U.S. corporations affiliated with the Unification Church. The foundation is seeking tax-exempt status.

Moon, known for his conservative opinions, has been quoted in the past by followers as labeling communism "Satan's strongest weapon." But in mid-April, thanks to perestroika he felt it proper to hold a conference in Moscow - the 11th World Media Conference, sponsored by Moon's organization, at which he met with Mikhail Gorbachev and 500 delegates from 60 countries.

Members of the Unification Church believe that the South Korean minister is the second Messiah.

In northern California, Ford Greene, a former member of the Unification Church and a Marin County lawyer who has been involved in litigation in state and federal courts with the church, calls the development of the Universal Ballet Academy a "brilliant scheme" that will "appropriate global legitimacy, credibility and influence for the Moonies as well as develop a conduit for recruiting minors into the church without their parents' knowledge or consent."

Benson said that he "categorically denies" any allegations that the ballet academy is intended to act as a front group or recruiting agent for the church.

"There is no intent to create any conversions here. Our purpose is not to proselytize," Benson said. "The academy is a contribution to the cultural well-being of Washington, D.C., and the world in general."