"The Nutcracker," with its sugarplum fairies and come-to-life toys that keep audiences delighted, may be the perennial favorite of children (and parents) at Christmas. But the fairy-tale romance of the bewitched Princess Aurora and her Prince Charming, who awakens her with a kiss after 100 years of sleep, is the story many young girls who study ballet cherish.

So it was no surprise that there were so many little girls in the audience at opening night of American Ballet Theatre's "Sleeping Beauty," even though the ballet lasts more than three hours, going almost to midnight. But there seemed to be little fidgeting from them, mostly just shiny-eyed rapture. Seven-year-old Leslie Thompson, in a plaid dress, pink bow and Mary Janes, seemed entranced throughout the performance by ballerina Amanda McKerrow, a former Washingtonian. Though she dozed toward the end of the ballet, she sat up straight for the final wedding scene, complete with Puss-in-Boots, the Bluebird and Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. And, of course, the happy couple.

"I like Sleeping Beauty," she said shyly, nodding when asked if she'd like to be her. Her mother Kathleen explained: "She studies ballet now and I thought this would be perfect for her -- I think so many little girls dream of being up here."

The Money of Crafts

The 1987 Washington Craft Show in April turned out to be a real moneymaker. The fancy show, a far cry from macrame' belts and papier-ma~che' vases, was full of well-appointed and expensive crafts. (Witness the $3,000 paper sculpture and the $850 ornate masks.) All that elegance was good for the bottom line -- the three-day show grossed $674,000, up from $500,000 in 1986. More than 13,000 attended. Applications for the 1988 show (April 22-24) are available now. They're due in October and can be obtained by calling the Smithsonian Associates Women's Committee at 357-4000.

Names and Changes

The Washington Independent Writers have elected four officers and seven new members to the board of directors. The officers are Howard Bray, Luree Miller, Joyce Beattie and Frank Portugal. Newly elected to the board for two-year terms are Bill Adler Jr., Yvonne Kidd, Cathy Smith, Bill Triplett, Larisa Wanserski and Wanda Wigfall-Williams. Leonard Tennyson will serve a one-year term ...

The District Curators have appointed George Gordon chairman of the board and Bill Carroll managing director. The organization will present a musical portion of "Long Tongues," its in-progress saxophone opera, July 20 at Lincoln Center ...

The Washington Art Dealers Association elected Sidney Mickelson to replace eight-year president Ted Cooper. Also new to the board: Kathleen Ewing as vice president, Jane Haslem as treasurer, David Adamson and Gail Enns as corresponding secretaries and Chris Addison as recording secretary. Barbara Kornblatt and Tom Brody will also serve on the board ...

And the Phillips Collection has added three trustees: Max Berry, international trade attorney; attorney and developer Donald Brown; and developer Oliver Carr.

On the Exhibit Trail

There are lots of worthwhile off-the-track exhibits to see this week:

"Selections From the Permanent Collection" will go on view tomorrow at the new National Museum of Women in the Arts. More than 200 works will be displayed.

"The Jews of Kaifeng: Chinese Jews on the Banks of the Yellow River" at the B'nai B'rith Klutznick Museum explores the unique community of Jewish merchants who settled a thousand years ago in China. More than 100 photographs and artifacts trace their assimilation there.

The Smithsonian Institution libraries will open an exhibit Wednesday at the National Museum of American History on the conservation of books. The Smithsonian's special collections have more than 12,000 items that need to be preserved from the decay of time, and careful work, including ultrasonic encapsulation and leaf-casting, is necessary.

With the Wyeths taking up much of the museum space in town this summer ("Helga" at the National Gallery and "An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art" at the Corcoran), why not one more show at a gallery? The Neuhaus Collection will show "Jamie Wyeth: At Home in America" starting on July 4 and continuing through Aug. 1.

Though art from Bangladesh is rarely seen here, there is a show from that country at the International Monetary Fund until Friday. On display are delicate abstract drawings by Monir (his full name).

For political buffs, shows at the Kennedy Center's Performing Arts Library and the Library of Congress are must-sees. "Photography by Okamoto" is a retrospective of the work of Yoichi Okamoto, official photographer for Lyndon Johnson whose camera also captured other Washington luminaries, including many performing artists. The winners of the 44th White House News Photographers Association's annual competition are on display in the Library of Congress; the pictures chronicle the year on film.