Mike Baryshnikov, artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, said in a statement yesterday that he had rehired ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, after firing her last December, because "I respect her enormously as an artist even though she does not seem to return that feeling.

"This does not bother me, since I do not judge an artist by what she or he says through press interviews," Baryshnikov went on, referring to an interview Kirkland gave shortly before her rehiring, "but only by their behavior in rehearsal and their delivery in performance. I've known Miss Kirkland for many years now and have come to realize that her public statements are as changeable as the colors of a chameleon; by the same token I know that as a performer she has the solidity of a rock if she wants it to be thus."

Baryshnikov said Kirkland had asked to be in touch with him several times since her firing and that he had invited her back because "I did convince myself that she had solved many of her problems." Three times, he said, Kirkland would not accept "the rather strict conditions ABT makes upon its artists," but the fourth time she accepted.

Baryshnikov rejected reports that Kirkland was hired to boost box-office sales at the company's coming Met engagement, noting that advance sale has been stronger than ever. He also said that he will be her partner in 90 percent of her Met performances.

Kirkland will dance with Baryshnikov for the first time since her rehiring at ABT's sold-out, closing performance at the Kennedy Center tomorrow night.