American Ballet Theatre's Cynthia Harvey has been dancing just this side of greatness for several years now. She's long been an intelligent and musical dancer, an impeccable technician, a thoughtful actress. Last night she gave a relaxed, grand and radiant performance in the leading female role of Balanchine's "Ballet Imperial." With Jeremy Collins -- obviously the Prince of his generation -- she brought out the ballet's considerable choreogaphic glories as well as its subplots of courtliness, love and longing.

Twyla Tharp's "Brief Fling," with its jarring juxtapositions of mood and tone and its contrasts of mayhem and mystery, seemed strangely appropriate Wednesday night at ABT's second Kennedy Center performance. Made for the perky Cheryl Yeager and explosive Julio Bocca, it looked very different when danced by Harvey and Guillaume Graffin. This was a debut, and both dancers were still finding their way in the ballet. Graffin lacks Bocca's power and speed, and his gracious, almost humble stage manners shifted the spotlight to the ballerina. Harvey, usually a witty dancer, hasn't yet developed the wit she uncovered in her role. But the two, dancing for rather than against each other, let Tharp's craft shine through, and all the dancers put their hearts into a work whose style they understand completely.

Although the stylistic difficulties of "Ballet Imperial" and Massine's "Gaite Parisienne," the other two works on the program, were not always overcome, the company made up for its disappointing opening night by coming to life in the grand and difficult Balanchine.

The women of the corps, with their broad smiles, big kicks and wholesome beauty, were especially spirited. However, despite some individually fine moments, Amanda McKerrow and Wes Chapman were too lightweight for the leading roles. Neither is an imperial dancer. McKerrow's fire was external; nothing boiled inside. Chapman is a fine allegro dancer, but was miscast in this noble danseur role. He's not comfortable standing still or walking, and his overacting brings to mind Balanchine's famous instruction to "Just dance it, dear." Christine Dunham, in the second ballerina role, was regal enough and danced generously, but she seemed strangely alienated -- a visiting countess doing her exercises.

In "Gaite," the corps' wholesomeness was a disadvantage. The dancers don't look naughty and they don't look chic. Against this unpromising backdrop, Johan Renvall, Leslie Browne and Ricardo Bustamante danced a very sweet version of this frothy flirtation. Renvall's bedazzled Peruvian, drunk at his first sight of Paris, was brilliantly danced and clearly mimed. Browne, in a debut, made the Glove Seller likable as well as alluring, and her duet with Bustamante (as a very young, good-hearted Baron) was beautiful.