THE DANCE SEASON gets off to a splendid start this weekend as the Kennedy Center opens its doors to ancient and contemporary forms of movement and sound:


America's recent fascination with India has spawned a number of compelling cultural events, and this is one of them.

Thirty-six of India's most celebrated musicians and dancers will appear on a single program that offers a smorgasbord of artistic styles both old and new.

The show begins with a percussion ensemble drumming its way through the Grand Foyer and into the Eisenhower Theater, followed by performances of Bharata Natyam (an intricate solo form of classical dance), Kathakali (extravagantly costumed dance dramas), Kathak (a devilishly rhythmic dance form performed in tandem with a group of percussioists), Rajasthan folk songs and Kuchipudi (an epic dance form replete with wild leaps and suggestive eye movements).


When Erick Hawkins, the first male dancer in Martha Graham's company, left that troupe in 1950, he strove to develop a dance technique and performance style that would be as painless and joyful as possible. Thirty-five years later, the "Hawkins technique" has become something of a religion to a great many dancers, and the members of Hawkins' company have won acclaim for the ease, serenity and sensuality they project.

Hawkins, still performing at 70, creates dances that take their cues from, among other things, nature, Native Americans and Eastern philosophy. And his commitment to the use of original sets, costumes and music (always performed live) is legendary.

The Hawkins experience is rather like a theatrical utopia: free of tension and conflict, poetic and lucid, a harmonious world of sound and vision.

INDIAN FESTIVAL -- Friday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2, Eisenhower Theater. Tickets $17.50 to 27.50. Call 254-3696.

ERICK HAWKINS DANCE COMPANY -- Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Terrace Theater. Tickets $13.50. Call 254-9895.