arly in the evening flowers had been everywhere. Huge autumn-colored bunches of tiger lilies, orange roses, golden mums and scarlet gladioli filled the dressing rooms. It was not just the Washington Ballet's first Paris performance, it also was the opening of the 20th "Festival International de Danse de Paris," one of the most prestigious performance series in Europe and the official start of the 1982-83 Paris season.

The sense of occasion in the lobby, as luminaries from the worlds of art and politics filed into the Theatre des Champs-Elyse'es, was perhaps something that few companies could quite live up to.

The Washington Ballet tried its best; but by the end of the evening of three Choo San Goh ballets ("Double Contrasts," "Fives" and the new "In the Glow of the Night"), the enthusiasm had stalled somewhere around lukewarm and polite.

Chauvinistic and snobbish, the Paris audience is legendary for its opinionated (some would say narrow-minded) attitudes. In the same theater, 70 years ago, the audience rioted in disgust when Diaghilev presented the premiere of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" with choreography by Nijinsky.

Monday night there were no riots, but also no cheers--except those with distinctly American accents. Even New York City Ballet guest artists Peter Martins and Heather Watts, who were sandwiched between the Goh ballets in a Balanchine pas de deux and that bravura warhorse "Le Corsaire," failed to generate the kind of excitement one would have expected in the States.

At midnight, with the debut over, the company, friends and well-wishers went to an Oriental restaurant for the an opening-night celebration.

Goh, bundled in a bulky gray cardigan, sat hunched in a corner trying to look happy, trying not to spoil the dancers' sense of occasion. But it seemed hard for him even to crack a smile. He had a flu bug.

The same flu sent artistic director Mary Day home to her bed immediately after the curtain came down. Some of the dancers in the newly expanded 20-member company also played it safe and headed back to the hotel to soak and sleep. Amanda McKerrow, making her farewell appearances with the Washington Ballet before joining the American Ballet Theatre next month, had wanted to rest a troublesome ankle. Instead, she was busily calling numbers in the United States to cancel the credit cards stolen that afternoon when someone took her wallet on the Paris subway.

But the dancers didn't let their spirits get bogged down. Noting that this had been mainly an invitational, elitist audience, one of the ballerinas said she couldn't wait to see how a "real" audience would respond to the company.

The dancers already knew that Choo San Goh's talents aren't as highly regarded in Paris as in many other parts of the world. And, anyway, there was a month-long, seven-city European tour ahead of them. So even if the critics were nasty and the audiences didn't warm up, there was still plenty to look forward to.