IF SHAKESPEARE can be done in modern dress and Greek tragedy can be served up as a gospel revival, why can't a classic European story ballet like "Giselle" be transplanted to the Louisiana bayou, circa 1841?

In this Creole "Giselle," the first full-length story ballet to be performed by the Dance Theater of Harlem, company founder and artistic director Arthur Mitchell has kept the choreography and tragic storyline intact. But his characters are free blacks who lived in and around antebellum New Orleans.

Set and costume designer Carl Michell's intensive research into the people and period can be seen in every aspect of the lavish production. The first act takes place at a farmhouse, complete with porch, picket fence and toolhouse, while the second unfolds in a misty bayou hung with Spanish moss. The coun folk harvest sugar cane, and the costumes are true to the plantation era.

In addition to the company's nouveau "Giselle," it will perform such favorites as "Troy Game," Robert North's ode to macho athleticism; John Taras' "Firebird," an exotic spectacle aided immensely by Geoffrey Holder's smashing costumes; George Balanchine's "Serenade," a landmark ballet of mystery and serenity; Holder's voodoo-inspired "Banda"; and the Washington premiere of Glen Tetley's abstract "Voluntaries."

DANCE THEATER OF HARLEM -- Friday at 8 (mixed bill), Saturday at 2 (mixed bill) and 8 (Giselle), Sunday at 1:30 (Giselle) and 7:30 (mixed bill), Kennedy Center Opera House.