First George Bush had lunch with Geraldine Ferraro. Then the temperature hit 72 degrees in the middle of December.

And now -- perhaps strangest of all -- people are booing at the ballet.

Thursday night at the Kennedy Center, American Ballet Theatre presented the world premiere of choreographer David Gordon's avant-garde work, "Field, Chair and Mountain." And when it ended, an unmistakable noise came ringing out of $35 orchestra seats.

Yesterday, ABT artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was in the Opera House for the performance, attempted to brush it off.

"I am booed all the time -- every second day," he said. "I didn't hear personally the booing. But if people boo, I think it's a sign of originality. I think it's an extremely important, wonderful piece. I have to run to rehearsal now."

Prima ballerina Martine van Hamel did hear the boos, however. She was on stage, taking her bows with partner Clark Tippet. "They were clear, loud boos," she said. "They came in at the beginning, right before the applause. People who have the intention to boo must make sure that they do it before everyone else starts making noise."

Van Hamel said there may have been only a single booer and that the noise was quickly drowned out by cheers. "It wasn't a serious booing situation." She added that if she could speak to the booer, "I would ask him what he didn't like about it. I'm waiting for his next move. I must admit, it doesn't happen very often."

Indeed, booing at the ballet is an offbeat pastime. The most famous case -- the May 1913 premiere of the Stravinsky-Nijinsky ballet, "The Rite of Spring," in which the audience nearly tore apart the The'a tre des Champs-Elyse'es in Paris -- is also the least typical.

Booing of any sort is practically unheard of at the Kennedy Center, where audiences are much more apt to hand out standing ovations, almost out of politeness. Laura Longley, the Kennedy Center's director of communications, said nobody there has measured the boo frequency at performances. "We don't keep a record of the standing ovations, any more than we record the responses that are less than that," she said.

But possibly the last such incident occurred a decade ago, when the premiere of a piece of Romanian 12-tone chamber music -- it may have been Tiberiu Olah's "Memory Has No Time," but no one seems to remember -- met with negative audience reaction. "Don't applaud, it'll only encourage him," someone said, according to a witness, after the composer mounted the stage.

Thursday night, there was more enthusiasm than opprobrium for "Field, Chair and Mountain," a work that involves 20 metal folding chairs, a mountain range, a quirky duet by van Hamel and Tippet and a lot of lounging around on stage by the corps de ballet.

"To me, it sounded like one very vociferous person sitting somewhere up behind me," said choreographer Gordon, who was ensconced in Row Q with his manager, Bonnie Brooks, and his 22-year-old son, Ain. "I remember my manager said 'Oh, no!' and my son said 'Oh, yes!' I thought it was wonderful. I'm grateful that somebody's passion exerted itself. I think passionate response is quite healthy."

Van Hamel agreed. "It means they weren't yawning," she said.

"There have been times when I have booed," she added. "You just get angry sometimes, you don't agree with what's going on, you feel it's bad and that it should never have happened. My boo is not a loud boo that people could hear. But one of these days, I might get it together."