Utah Ballet artistic director Attila Ficzere and Istvan Herczog, director and main choreographer for Pecs Ballet in Hungary, formed a bond more than 35 years ago when their country still embraced com-munism.

"We were both chosen from two different schools in Hungary for a three-day (dance) examination in 1953 at the State Ballet Institute," Ficzere said during an interview between rehearsals.Herczog is in Utah to stage his work "Variations on a Dream" for the Utah Ballet Company. The production will continue its run June 5-6, in the Alice Sheets Marriott Center for Dance on the University of Utah Campus.

After meeting as young dancers, Ficzere and Herczog quickly became as close as brothers, studying together at the Ballet Institute. Now, looking back on their lives, Herczog believes there was something else, perhaps a higher power, watching over them.

"I defected from Hungary in 1966," said Herczog, with Ficzere translating. "I went to Germany where I worked with John Cranko at Stuttgart."

Herczog was also a soloist at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and made his way to Dusseldorf. By 1988, the dancer was the artistic director of the Dortmund Op-era.

Three years after Herczog left Hungary, Ficzere, while on a dance tour of Paris, also defected, and eventually made his way to Canada. "The first time I saw him after I had defected was a few months later in Frieberg, Germany," Fic-zere said. "I rang his bell at 6 a.m. one Sunday morning."

Ficzere and Herczog spent some time together catching up on things. Both agree that they felt they knew each other better than their own families, having danced together for more than nine years.

As fate, destiny or coincidence would have it, both dancers see the year 1988 as a landmark. "We both became artistic directors," said Ficzere.

Herczog took the helm at Dortmund Opera and Ficzere found himself directing the Utah Ballet, although they had no idea of each other's whereabouts.

During his tenure at Dortmund, Herczog traveled Europe and choreographed works for dance companies in London, Cologne, Bordeaux, Braunshcweig and Ljubljana.

Then, in 1992 - two years after the Communist party surrendered its autocracy to democracy - Herczog returned to Hungary and, eventually, to the Pecs Ballet.

More than 30 years after the two friends had gone their separate ways, fate - or whatever you want to call it - made another appearance, bringing the dancers together again. This was in 1997.

"I was on the Internet when I came across his name," Ficzere said. "He had returned to Pecs (pronounced Paich) and was directing and choreographing for Pecs Ballet. "I went to Hungary and knocked on his door, again."

"For the second time in 30 years, I opened the door to see Attila," Herczog said. "It's amazing how much a person can change but how much they can stay the same. I couldn't believe my eyes."

Ficzere was able to bring Herczog to the United States as a guest choreographer for Utah Ballet. His work "Variations On a Dream" had its U.S. premiere at the U. on Thursday.

"I was so surprised at how much the dancers here love to dance," Herczog said. "In this country, the dancers start a little older than back at home. Therefore, they have more of a choice as to what they want to do with their lives.

"And I believe it's that choice that makes them more dedicated and willing to try new things, especially when it comes to dance. And that gives them extra confidence."