IT WAS 24 years ago -- nearly to the day -- that Frank Andersen, currently the artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, first saw John Neumeier's "Mahler's Third Symphony." It made a deep impression, one that has led to the Swedish company's performances of the work this weekend at the Kennedy Center.

"It was one of the most exciting evenings in my life," says Andersen of the June 1975 premiere of the work Neumeier created for the Hamburg Ballet, which he still directs.

The American-born Neumeier has a strong following in Europe, with a taste for large-scale productions such as the Mahler -- and he has since choreographed other symphonies by the Austrian composer -- as well as works such as Bach's "St. Matthew Passion." His "Third Symphony," nearly two hours long (with no intermission), interprets the six movements of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 in D minor.

"It's abstract, but it embraces everything," Andersen says. "War, peace, love, religion, God -- you have everything in human capacity, I would say, and beyond, with the angels."

Male dancers are featured prominently in the work, and with the Royal Swedish Ballet's roster of fine male dancers, Andersen has finally gotten his wish to acquire the production for his own company's repertory.

"We are presenting one of the best male companies that's on the map these years," Andersen says. "That's why John wanted us to perform this piece, as the first company allowed to do it outside of the Hamburg Ballet."

ROYAL SWEDISH BALLET -- Performing John Neumeier's "Mahler's Third Symphony," Saturday at 2 and 8, Sunday at 2 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Call 202/467-4600.