Peter Martins, the Danish Pastry of dance, is delicious.

The sexiest member of the barre.

Check it out: The snug jeans. The broad chest, tapering to a narrow waist. The expressive, strong hands. The carved cheekbones, Copenhagen-blue eyes and lips like two little down pillows. The soft, sandy hair you'd like to run naked through.

"Thank you," he says, smiling demurely.

His Hunkness lights another Merit, takes a drag and exhales. Then he tests the coffee that has been set before him. He is easy. Self-effacing. Not afraid of cigarettes. Not afraid of caffeine. Not afraid to wear a silver and turquoise bracelet on his left wrist.

He is 39, director of the New York City Ballet and here to choreograph "Carousel," which opens tonight at the Kennedy Center's Opera House and runs through July 19th. He took the NYCB job, in association with Jerome Robbins, after founder George Balanchine died three years ago.

Has it been difficult?

He laughs. "I'm either very stupid or very brave," he says, explaining his willingness to assume Balanchine's mantle. "I think I underestimated how much work was involved."

He sometimes finds himself asking, "Would Balanchine like this?" But for the most part, he says, he doesn't have time to worry about the ghost of his mentor. He spends seven days a week teaching, scheduling and choreographing works for the company. He also gets bogged down occasionally in paper work, and the ongoing task of fund raising. The City Ballet has always eschewed the kind of glitz usually reserved for American Ballet Theatre. "We don't have Jackie O on our board," Martins says wryly.

He says he is up at 9 a.m. and usually at the theater from 11 a.m. to midnight. On this day, a Monday, he breezes into the Kennedy Center straight from the Eastern Shuttle. He will spend the afternoon in rehearsals, then fly back to New York the next day.

Having given up performing in 1983 at the height of his powers -- "I had a good career; it was time to move on" -- Martins is the least known member of the muscle beach school of ballet. His friends Mikhail Baryshnikov and Alexander Godunov have both gone on to successful film careers. Why not Martins?

"I have too much respect for the craft of acting," he says in his lilting Nordic accent. "Actually, when I first came here, I was offered several movies. They seemed interesting until I found out they wanted me to play homosexuals. I think the producers said, 'Get some ballet dancer.' "

He laughs easily.

"John Huston sent me a script recently. He is doing 'Dante.' I wasn't interested. I told them to try Sasha," he says, referring to Godunov.

He says he doesn't miss performing. He never really liked the attention or the adulation. He never wanted Hollywood, to go on Johnny Carson and bounce off Shelley Winters.

"I'm uncomfortable with that," he says. "I think you lose part of yourself when you become so well known.

"I went out to dinner one night and there, sitting next to me at the table, SW,-2 SK,2 LD,10 were Madonna and her boyfriend. They were literally hiding behind their menus," he says, holding up his hands to his face.

But what do they expect? Going out to a restaurant where they know they'll be seen?

"What else should they do? You can't eat home every night.

"I found a co-op in New York I wanted to buy, overlooking Central Park," he says, leaning forward. "It took me a while to get everything together. At the last minute, the board of directors turned me down." They didn't give him a formal reason, he says, but later, "I found out it was because they thought I was a celebrity. They didn't want the front hall filled with young ballerinas waiting for autographs."

He sighs, takes another drag of his cigarette and leans back, crossing his long legs.

Martins gets high marks for his teaching style, and also has a reputation as a ladies' man. "Who told you that?" he says mischievously. He says getting involved with his students causes him "problems." There is jealousy, yes, and there are charges of favoritism. Ballerinas are a temperamental lot, he says. He had a 10-year liaison with City Ballet principal Heather Watts, and romantic flutters with dancers Darci Kistler and Stephanie Saland, but now says there's no one special.

"I haven't thought of really having a relationship for the last three years," he says. "My friends say, 'Where have you been. We never see you?' I don't go to Elaine's. I don't go to parties. I'm a hermit, really."

He leans back, crossing his arms. "I suppose it's time for me to start thinking of settling down."

His parents divorced when he was 2. He was accepted into the Royal Danish Ballet School at the age of 8, and 10 years later was dancing solos. In 1970, after commuting back and forth between Copenhagen and New York, Martins joined Balanchine's company, leaving behind a wife and 2-year-old son in Denmark. (His son, now 19, lives with him in New York.)

Known for his classical style, he and Suzanne Farrell enjoyed a popular partnership. "Each was regal and outwardly cool," according to Newsweek magazine. "Each of them scorned easy, sure effects."

Making the leap to Broadway wasn't hard for Martins, who says that as a young boy in Denmark, he was mesmerized by the Broadway musicals he saw on film. His credits include "On Your Toes" and Bernadette Peters' "Song and Dance," for which he received a Tony nomination last year.

It's time for rehearsal. Martins hops on stage, surrounded by several dancers. He isn't satisfied with the carousel horse in center stage. He wants the wooden horse to turn slowly. There is much discussion, and Martins rolls up the sleeves of his red and white striped shirt. Several female dancers eye him admiringly.

Later, the press preview will be put back by nearly a week. Martins isn't satisfied. He needs more time.

"Can we have your attention please?" he bellows, as the cast members alternately giggle, stretch and preen. "Otherwise it's a waste of time."

A lone piano player tinkles the familiar strains of the show's theme song. Martins rubs his eyes. Then he falls to the stage and lies on his back, stretching his legs to his chest and dropping them first to one side, then the other.

He is listening, watching, as the bodies move across the stage. It looks like the start of another long day.

"Okay," he says good-naturedly. "Let's see the next mess.