It promised to be a delightful war of spun confections, toys and sugarplum fairies.

Since 1961, the Washington Ballet has presented a Christmas staple -- Tchaikovsky's much-performed "The Nutcracker." So when the Joffrey Ballet came dancing extravagantly into town last week with its $1.5 million Americanized version of the ballet, wasn't there some nervousness that the Washington Ballet's year-end gift -- and chief moneymaker -- would not be received with the same enthusiasm as before?

No way, according to Elvi Moore, Washington Ballet's executive director. In fact, the local "Nutcracker" -- choreographed by artistic director Mary Day and conducted by William Hudson of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra -- has had major competition from well-endowed outsiders before. In 1976, American Ballet Theatre premiered Mikhail Baryshnikov's version of "The Nutcracker" at the Kennedy Center.

"The Washington Ballet said, 'Well, so we have competition again -- that's the way business is,' " says Moore. "It's better not to have conflict, but the Kennedy Center booked them and that's their prerogative."

Moore insists there is room enough for two casts of thousands on the dance floor. The Joffrey Ballet's performances at the Kennedy Center haven't put a dent in sales for the Lisner Auditorium performances, she says.

"We have our own production, which seems to have weathered all competition," Moore says. "The first eight performances sold out."

Moore also attributes the loyalty of Washington audiences to old- and newcomers who enjoy the community spirit of the Washington Ballet's production. "There are grandmothers who brought their children to 'The Nutcracker' who are now bringing their grandchildren," Moore says. "We use our own people, our own students {from the Washington School of the Ballet}. There's a real community feeling and support."

The Washington Ballet's "Nutcracker" will run Tuesdays through Sundays through Dec. 31. In addition to regular performances, the ballet is giving performances in schools in the morning.

The Joffrey's version will run through Dec. 27 in the Kennedy Center Opera House. It too is popular, with a number of performances already sold out.

The Choo-San Goh Tribute

On a more solemn note, the Washington Ballet will honor associate artistic director Choo-San Goh, who died Nov. 28, in a service Jan. 5 at 4 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.

Goh, in his 11 years with the company, created 34 ballets, 14 expressly for the Washington Ballet. He also received numerous awards, including the 1986 Mayor's Art Award for excellence in an artistic discipline.

The Washington Ballet also is establishing the Choo-San Goh Choreographer Fund to bring in choreographers to create ballets for the company. The Choo-San Goh and Robert Magee Foundation has been established to give grants to emerging or existing dance companies or choreographers. Call 362-3606 for information.

Georgia on Their Minds

The Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the National Gallery "is a blockbuster, right up there with 'Treasure Houses' and 'Matisse,' " says National Gallery spokesman Randall Kremer. After seven weeks, attendance for the exhibit is creeping toward 200,000. Judging from the long lines waiting to get in this past weekend and the packed rooms inside, interest has not dropped off, and gallery officials recommend going during the week for more leisurely viewing (although they expect crowds this week because of the Christmas holiday). In a recent unscientific poll, people waiting in line seemed to be pleased with the swift and organized movement into the show, despite a terrific amount of zigzagging from place to place in the museum to reach the exhibit entrance. Ushers say the crowds have stayed polite despite hassles, and one noted that a lot of the viewers seem to be older women. "Many say they admire O'Keeffe and her independence into old age," said one usher.

Kennedy Center Kids

The Kennedy Center's free Christmas programs for children seem to be a success. According to center officials, 25,621 children came to the free show "Dick Whittington and His Cat" and the various young people's concerts in the performing arts center. The figure breaks all past attendance records for the seasonal events.

Washington Post staffer Claudia Sandlin contributed to this report.