Not only is the Washington Ballet getting a new director--with Septime Webre set to take over on Tuesday--but the company is gaining some star power in its ranks of dancers as well. American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Amanda McKerrow and her husband, ABT soloist John Gardner, will be appearing with the company as guest principal artists for the 1999-2000 season, the company has announced.

Webre says McKerrow and Gardner will appear in the fall, winter and spring series of the Washington Ballet, dancing in such works as George Balanchine's "Agon," Jiri Kylian's "Nuages" and Antony Tudor's "The Leaves Are Fading," which the couple will also stage for the Tudor estate.

"It's a chance for us to try our hands at setting a ballet, and teaching and coaching, which we're really excited about," says McKerrow.

"I'm looking forward to working with these mature artists who can really be colleagues, and bring a real sense of integrity to the company and the stage," says Webre. "I think they'll be an inspiration to the other dancers."

McKerrow says she and Gardner still hope to perform in whatever ABT productions their schedules allow, especially in ABT Director Kevin McKenzie's new staging of "Swan Lake," which his company is slated to perform at the Kennedy Center in March 2000.

In her 18 seasons at ABT, McKerrow, 35, has become one of the company's purest classical ballerinas with leading roles in such ballets as "The Sleeping Beauty," "Swan Lake" and "Don Quixote." Her repertoire also encompasses works by Balanchine, Tudor, Kenneth MacMillan, Twyla Tharp and Mark Morris. The 38-year-old Gardner, who in 1991 briefly left ABT to dance with Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project, has had a varied and eclectic dance career, with featured roles in both contemporary and classical works.

Both dancers were eager for a change, explains McKerrow. "This is not so much to sever our relationship with ABT as to enhance it," she says. "It'll be good for us to try some different things. And with Septime, it's something fresh, something new."

Says Webre, "I certainly hope that this will be the beginning of a long-term association with John and Amanda."

CAPTION: John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow will dance with the Washington Ballet.