The new ballet season began last night at the Alden Theatre in McLean with a performance by the company resident in Richmond, in its second appearance in the Washington area. On its first visit, a year ago, the Richmond Ballet misjudged the size of the Alden's stage and was cramped by the scenery it brought along for a classic. This year's program of more contemporary works dispensed with sets, so there was a bit more room for dancing.

The two feathers in this modest, honest company's cap, though, weren't due to spaciousness but the acquisition of two Soviet dancers, Marina Antonova and Igor Antonov, and a powerful piece, Kurt Jooss's "The Green Table."

The Soviet couple, familiar from tours of the Donetsk Ballet, arrived Sunday for a stay of at least this season, and hasn't had a chance to learn the Richmond repertory. Appearing by themselves in just an excerpt, the pas de deux from Michel Fokine's "Les Sylphides," they were in fine form. Supple and light, they achieved a sense of yearning so crucial for Fokine's concept yet often missing even in full renditions of the work. Antonova, especially, had a chance to shine, and with her large eyes, round features and poignant shoulders, resembled photographs of Tamara Karsavina of the first cast of this ballet.

Any chance to see "The Green Table" is welcome, especially with war in the offing, yet with the Joffrey Ballet's production touring the country one can't help half wishing that Richmond would have chosen another Jooss work. Because of the small stage in McLean, Death can't appear as unexpectedly as he ought to in each scene of this morality play about diplomacy and combat. Still some of the Richmond dancers haven't been seen to better advantage. Norvell Robinson's Profiteer was snarling, Jacqueline Orndorff's Partisan Woman became as noble as marble sculpture, and Susan Braaten's Girl as abused as a defenseless doll. Malcolm Burn, Death, didn't always have the required weight for this role but when he locked his feet in fifth position, one heard coffins being locked.

The program, which will be repeated today at 2 and 8 p.m., opened with Ron Cunningham's "Summerset," smoothly choreographed to lush music by Elgar, but the sort of ballet one wishes would have less of a fondness for daring lifts and more of a predilection for explaining why its three couples flip-flop so frequently between joyousness and anxiety.

"Ancient Airs and Dances," to the Respighi score by Richmond's Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, gives good inklings into the moods of its four couples. The third duet, danced by Tina Martin and Jon Konetski, is especially well composed. It begins turbulently, is interrupted by the other dancers, then resumes at an even more intense level.