As the audience filed into the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night for the penultimate installment of the Dance America series, namely, the first of two programs by the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company, a company class was in progress on stage -- allegro combinations, then a series of floor exercises. It turned out this prologue was a clue to the character of the evening, and not altogether a benign one.

The 66-year-old Lewitzky, who led the class herself, has a formidable reputation, not just as a choreographer, but as a teacher, company director, and, in earlier years, as a dancer. She developed in relative isolation as a disciple and then a colleague of the celebrated West Coast dance pioneer Lester Horton. Her own base has remained in Los Angeles. Horton's sinewy technnique formed the basis of the class, with its smooth weight shift, lunging strides, axial twists and scooping arms. The class also showed the company of 10 dancers to be attractive, cohesive and clearly expert, though not very individually distinctive.

Once it began, however, the program -- consisting of three Lewitzky pieces, all abstract -- was a decided disappointment. The opening work, "Game Plan," looked like an extension of the class, with an overlay of game tactics -- clapping hands and drum beats, cues for choreographic sequences called out by the dancers, an air of smiles and camaraderie. But the rhythm, dynamics and patterns of movement were monotonously humdrum, and the spontaneity seemed forced. "Suite Satie" brought more of the same formulaic material, with no particular expressive relation to the music. And "Spaces Between," with its trapeze platforms, tricky lightening, electronic bleeps and robotic quirks, looked like bargain-basement Nikolais -- Nikolais minus the wizardry.

In short, the program had the feeling of pedagogy; it was all soundly engineered and proportioned, tasteful and occasionally ingenious, but of audacity or vision there was little sign, and on the whole it seemed more a demonstration of principles than the answer to a creative impulse.Perhaps the second program, due for two performances tomorrow, will afford a different prospect.