With the arrival of John Taras as associate director, American Ballet Theatre has gained an in-house stager of the Balanchine repertory. Given that a dance must be performed to be effectively preserved, it is a relief to see the Balanchine masterpieces being disseminated outside of the New York City Ballet. And if these dances are not being performed exactly as they were at NYCB when Balanchine was alive, there cannot be many more years, without the guiding hand of the choreographer, that the style will remain pure at NYCB either.

In its premiere performances of Balanchine's "Donizetti Variations" during its current season at the Kennedy Center Opera House, ABT is proving that the acquisition of Taras was a coup. "Donizetti's" bravura exposition of pure dance is a challenge to the entire company. With its lightning-quick footwork and shifts of direction, the choreography for the corps is on the level of difficulty usually reserved for principal dancers. And that for the principals is prodigious.

Amanda McKerrow, partnered by another Washington-trained dancer, Peter Fonseca, made her debut last night dancing the "Donizetti" lead. Although she could not erase the impression left by the wondrous performance of Cynthia Harvey at its company premiere two weeks ago, McKerrow's rendering was nonetheless admirable. In her calm emphasis upon the choreography's harmonious craft rather than its spectacular pyrotechnics, McKerrow was more sunny than explosive, more romantic than neo-classic. There were some slight awkwardnesses in the partnering by Fonseca, whose own variations were carried out with more brio than finesse.

Also on the program were repeat performances of "Field, Chair and Mountain" and "Great Galloping Gottschalk." David Gordon's "Field" was marked by an illuminating performance, filled with wit and intelligence, of the "pas de trois" for Martine van Hamel, Clark Tippet and folding chair. Lynn Taylor-Corbett's TV dinner choreography for "Gottschalk" -- colorful on the surface but without substance -- rendered the mighty efforts of the dancers all but pointless.