LAST SUMMER, Washington audiences experienced the exquisite artistry of the Kirov Ballet. This summer it's the Bolshoi Ballet that's making dancegoers go ga-ga. The two exponents of the Russian ballet share a basic movement vocabulary -- but they couldn't be more different. Whereas the Kirov stresses the glories of the romantic and classical repetoire, the unity of the corps de ballet and the expressive power of mime, the Bolshoi is best known for its more contemporary, athletic and spectacular approach.

Under the artistic direction of Yuri Grigorovich, the formidable company opens its run with performances of "The Golden Age," an evening-length ballet with a telling political history. Originally choreographed by the collaborative team of Kaplan, Vainonen, Tchesnakov and Jacobson in 1930, with a score by Dimitri Shostakovich, the piece dealt with an exhibition in a capitalist city where a fight ensues between fascists and a Soviet football team. In the end, the capitalists join the football players in a dance symbolizing the joy of work. This production, condemned for supposed ideological destructiveness, subsequently disappeared from the Bolshoi repertory.

Recently restaged by Grigorovich, "The Golden Age" has been refashioned into a tale of fishermen and youths fighting the temptations of alcohol and sex in a decadent nightclub on the Russian seashore. Shostakovich's arresting score, deemed controversial the first time around, has been retained; listen to how he weaves his dense symphonic sound with excerpts of such popular Western tunes as "Tea for Two."

THE BOLSHOI BALLET -- Through August 1 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.