About 60 dancers from the American Ballet Theatre presented a world premiere performance yesterday afternoon in front of the building that houses ABT's executive offices.

They were picketing to protest ABT's decision to lock them out of rehearsals yesterday morning. The dancers and ABT have been unable to reach agreement on a contract to replace the old one which expired Aug. 31. The next negotiating session is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Although the dancers are members of the American Guild of Musical Artists, they have hired Leonard Leibowitz, a well-known labor attorney, to represent them. Leibowitz explained that "ABT is more of a Washington-based company than a New York one. Even though their offices are here, the Kennedy Center is their home." A contingent of ABT dancers plans to picket the Kennedy Center today, although they are not protesting Kennedy Center policies.

The picketing dancers, some of whom were dressed in tutus and tights yesterday, were shivering in the 54-degree weather and brisk winds as they chanted "Support the ABT dancers" and handed out leaflets explaining their cause.

Leibowitz said, "I have a feeling [the lockout] might be a long one. ABT has yet to address the real issues -- here they not only [have ] the dancers subsidize their art, they subsidize ABT's stars" as well.

The dancers issued a statement saying, "Our management insists they cannot afford to pay us a living wage because most of their available money must be used to pay the 'stars.'"

An ABT official, however, said star salaries are irrelevant to the negotiations.

During yesterday's picketing, the dancers were joined by members of ABT's New York orchestra and the New York City Opera orchestra, officials of the American Guild York City Opera orchestra, officers of the American of Variety Artists -- which is a sister union to ABT's own American Guild of Musical Artists -- and representatives of the New York local of the musicians union.

An ABT spokesman said yesterday that the lockout had been mutually agreed upon by both sides. "The dancers were locked out as per an agreement between the [dancers'] bargaining unit and management. This was, as it were, an agreed-upon method of proceeding in these negotiations," he stated.

Leibowitz characterized those comments as untrue and "absurd." He said, "Anytime they want to end the lockout, we're prepared to end it," and go back to work.