Schmaltz was alive and well at the Kennedy Center last night, as American Ballet Theatre introduced the last of its new repertory acquisitions for the current engagement, Ben Stevenson's "Three Perludes" (1962), however, is familiar to Washingtonians from the era when the choerographer co-directed the National Ballet. There was an ironic edge to the sight of Stevenson sharing bows with dancers Gelsey Kirkland and John Meehan, along with pianist Boyd Staplin-some still link the fall of the National in 1974 to the ascent of ABT here.

Set to the lush raptures of Rachmaninoff, and looking in its gestural flamboyance like on of those Bolshoi Ballet barnburning encores, the ballet is saved from inanity by an awareness of its own excess.

You remember the perfume ad with the violinist arched over the swooning form of his lady? That's "Three Preludes." In the first of the preludes-the most persuasive of the three-a ballet barre doubles as a barrier of taboos between the couple, only to be transcended in a rising amorous tide as the woman is swept under, upon and over the railing into her partner's arms, and a ballet class turns into an amorous transport of lifts, tosses and spins.

Leave it ot Kirkland, of whom we are seeing far too little this season, to make this slender material seem grander than it is. The smooth glide of her lifts and the elegant extravagannce of her line almost had one believing the moonshine. Meehan, who is looking trimmer this season and has shown us his best work thus far with ABT in earlier performances of "Miss Julie" and "Fall River," made an aptly gallant partner.

Kristine Elliott and Fernando Bujones made impressive debuts in "Miss Julie." Elliott's dancing was incisive, though the portrayal could do with a bit more vixenish sexual teasing from the start. Bujones, as the aroused butler, was brilliant both technically and histrionically, a weasel and panther all at once.