Washington may be buried under a record snowfall, but you couldn't prove it by fans of the New York City Ballet. They jammed the Kennedy Center Opera House last night to welcome the troupe for the start of a two-week visit.

Understandably, as company manager Edward Bigelow explained from the stage, not everything was wholly in place last night.

Due to "complications" in unloading trucks, decor and lighting counldn't be executed according to plan. On the whole, moreover, the dancers seemed strained, tired and unsettled. The company's characteristic verve wasn't wholly absent -- far from it -- but it wasn't exactly the most auspicious of first nights.

The program, too, had its troublesome aspects.Last night was the first complete performance in this city of "Entente Cordiale," a triptych of ballet tributes to three nations that played key formative roles in the career of George Balanchine. He choreographed two of them -- "Stars and Stripes" in 1958, "Union Jack" in 1976 -- and "conceived and supervised" the other, "Tricolore."

However attractive as a concept, in practice it doesn't work out awfully well.The evening tends to inundate the eyes and ears with parade-ground pomp, and instead of mutually enhancing one another, in some respects these three ballets taken together detract from their individual charms.

"Tricolore," the ballet new to Washington, is the tribute to France, and it is -- why mince words -- a flop. It was an unfortunate makeshift to start with Balanchine intended to choreograph it originally, but illness intervened and colleagues took over under his guidance. But neither Peter Martin, Jeane-Pierre Bonnefous nor Jerome Robbins, worthies all, managed to conquer the intransigence of the commissioned musical score by Georges Auric.

"Tricolore" has its passing rewards -- a dynamic solo for Adam Luders in Martins' "Pas de Basque" section, for example -- but mostly the graceless music defeats the choreographer's best gambits. It was left to the soloists and corps in "Union Jack" to redeem the evening with brilliant spirit and pageantry.