Part of the immense task John Curry has set himself is that of creating a repertory -- finding or making works that do not merely borrow from dance, but use skating as their natural language. With "Skating Class," presented on the opening night of the John Curry Skaters' current run at the Kennedy Center Opera House, Curry gave his company and his audience a classroom experience, a school. With "The Skaters," which received its world premiere Saturday afternoon, he gave it a history.

Set to the skating music from Meyerbeer's opera "Le Prophe te," which Ashton used for his 1937 ballet "Les Patineurs," "The Skaters" is a series of vignettes that treats the history of skating in a poetic, rather than documentary, way.

A scrim of painted winter trees helps give the illusion of an outdoor lake upon which early skaters lose and gain their balance, other skaters trace figures, and young people play. There is a lovely pas de deux (for Curry and Patricia Dodd), a solo for a show-off skater (Nathan Birch), a friendly war for ice time between hockey players and practicing competitors.

When it's not playtime anymore, that scrim rises. We're indoors again, and Gabriella Galambos and Mark Hominuke are competing for a medal. Finally, competition melds into performance, and the entire company skates on as themselves.

The afternoon was marked by distinguished performances. Curry was superb in "After All," the twisting solo Twyla Tharp made for him, and gently animalistic in Norman Maen's "Afternoon of a Fawn" (a Washington premiere) with Catherine Foulkes as his playful nymph. Hominuke was believably menacing as the Death figure in Jean-Pierre Bonnefous' pretty but outdated "La Valse." And David Santee, who seems more guest skater than company member, hit every routine in his "Russian Sailors' Dance," performing the precise, flashing footwork and the big, space-conquering jumps with equal aplomb.

Best of all was the entire company doing "a few of the exercises we do each morning" in "Skating Class."