Strange, in a way, that America Ballet Theatre looks more comfortable in, and just plain dances better, their relatively recently acquired "Don Quixote" than in the other "full-length classics" which predate it by years in the repertory. The company has finally settled into Mikhail Baryshnikov's 1978, quiet-ready-for-prime-time production of the 19th-century Russian classic, which received a sizzling performance last night at Kennedy Center's Opera House, the leading roles taken by Martine Van Hamel and Patrick Bissell.

Van Hamel dances Kitri as a high-spirited woman rather than a bratty kid, and looks like she's having a whale of a time doing it. Last night, she danced with total authority -- splendidly stretched jumps, whipping turns and breathtaking balances. Her partner, Patrick Bissell, has also relaxed into his role, miming clearly and showing a fine comic timing. He had some balancing trouble in his third-act solo, but his dancing in the coda was darned near perfect -- he's finally injected enough energy into his big, easy movements.

Kevin McKenzie, who hs been adding original touches to every role he has performed this season, made a brilliantly individual debut as Espada. This matador charged on, twirling his cape -- the justifiable star of the village as he danced with brio a solo which, in other feet, can be a bore. In the Tavern scene, he was comically pompus, dancing with an air of injured vanity when Basil challenged him for making a pass at Kitri.

Other sharp portrayals of small roles added to the evening's enjoyment. Richard Schafer was wonderfully stolid and obtuse as Kitri's father; Anne Benna Sims was a saucy innkeeper; and Gregory Osborne had fun as Gamache, the foppish, rich suitor.