Despite attrition in some quarters, and a shortage of performance space for resident companies that is reaching crisis proportions, Washington's 1985-86 dance season promises to be a blockbuster, judging by the density and magnitude of already scheduled events.

Let's begin with highlights. After a much bemoaned absence of more than a year, the glorious New York City Ballet returns to Washington to open the ballet series (now dubbed "Ballet in America") at the Kennedy Center Opera House later this month. And for the first time in several seasons, the series will include a troupe from abroad -- the Stuttgart Ballet -- as well as four other domestic companies.

Also returning after a hiatus are two giants of modern dance -- the Eric Hawkins Dance Company, back at the Terrace Theater after four years, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which will perform in the Opera House in November. Both these troupes are part of this season's "Dance America" series, presented jointly by the Washington Performing Arts Society and the Kennedy Center. Among its other offerings, "Dance America" will introduce to Washington the Mark Morris Dance Group. A resident of Seattle, Morris -- wildly, sometimes outrageously, original, and a superb craftsman -- has become the most talked about young choreographer in the nation in little more than a year.

Looking ahead to 1986, the Central Ballet of China, making its U.S. debut tour, will appear at the Kennedy Center Opera House March 25-30, performing both classical Western and contemporary Chinese ballets. And Meredith Monk's extraordinary dance-theater work of 1976, "Quarry," will be presented at the Kennedy Center sometime in March under the joint auspices of District Curators, the American National Theater and the Washington Project of the Arts.

The Dance Place, which faces an uncertain future after the sale of its Adams-Morgan studio, is nonetheless geared up for the most exciting contemporary dance series of its history. The series got off to a splendid start last month in a concert that featured Diane Frank and Deborah Riley; the series lineup includes troupes from New York, Washington, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Israel.

The Washington Ballet will be offering three world premieres and one local premiere between now and next spring, in the form of ballets by resident choreographer Choo San Goh and guest choreographers Judith Jamison, Matthew Diamond and Vincente Nebrada. Jamison's first choreographic work was a highlight of the Alvin Ailey troupe's visit here last spring; her Washington Ballet commission is to be underwritten by a special $50,000 grant from Exxon. When the Washington Ballet presents its annual "Nutcracker" in 20 performances at Lisner Auditorium this December, it will have the downtown holiday ballet crowd to itself since American Ballet Theatre -- customarily at the Kennedy Center at the same time -- won't be returning to Washington until April.

Among the other most noteworthy events of the fall season are the following: the week-long India Festival of Music and Dance, as part of the nationwide 1985-86 Festival of India, at the Eisenhower Theater, Sept. 17-22, featuring four major styles of classical Indian dance, as well as ancient instrumental music and folk songs; the Washington premiere of Blondell Cummings' "Food for Thought" at George Mason University's Harris Theatre, Oct. 18; two programs by the Spanish Dance Society USA at the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium, Oct. 26 and 27; the first Washington appearance in 10 years by Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet, at the fine new Performing Arts Center of Montgomery College, Oct. 27; the resumption of dance activities at the Takoma Theatre with programs by Brooklyn's Jubilation Dance Company and the D.C. Contemporary Dance Theater in October and November; the return of Japan's spectacularly offbeat Sankai Juku troupe, at the Warner Theatre Nov. 1-3; the Kennedy Center debut of an upwardly mobile area troupe, the D.C. Contemporary Dance Theater, at the Terrace Theater, Nov. 11; the Black Dance '85 Festival, ending a week of festivities in celebration of the African Heritage company's 25th anniversary, at a site to be announced, Nov. 16; "Visiting Hours," a new dance-theater work by Wendy Woodson and Achim Nowak at a November date to be announced, at the New Playwrights' Theatre; a new program by the Maryland Dance Theater, at the newly refurbished Publick Playhouse, Dec. 6 and 7; the presentation of the Kennedy Center Honors award to pathfinder Merce Cunningham, Dec. 8; and the Washington premiere of "new vaudevillian" Bill Irwin's "The Regard of Flight" at Arena's Kreeger Theater, Dec. 13 though Jan. 12.

Some further particulars of the series events, through the end of the year: For its "Ballet in America" engagement Sept. 25-Oct. 6, the New York City Ballet will be bringing us the Washington premieres of Jerome Robbins' "In Memory of . . ." and Peter Martins' "Poulenc Sonata," as well as a slew of George Balanchine works, including an all-Stravinsky program and a week of performances of his magical "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The Eric Hawkins troupe leads off the "Dance America" series at the Terrace Theater, Sept. 19-21; then come, also at the Terrace, the Mark Morris Dance Group, Nov. 9 and 10; American Ballroom Theater, which left an enchanting impression with its Washington debut earlier this year, Oct. 24-26; and the Paul Taylor Dance Company (at the Opera House), Nov. 29-Dec. 1.

At the Dance Place, the series continues with Eiko and Koma, Sept. 13 and 14; the impressive new Washington troupe, the Daniel West Dancers, Oct. 11-13; the New Dance Ensemble of Minneapolis, marking the start of the Dance Place's participation in the recently established National Performance Network (NPN) with a week-long residency capped by performances Oct. 17-20; Israel's Kibbutz Dance Company, Oct. 23; and the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, of San Francisco, Oct. 28 and 29. Whether the series can continue at the 18th Street site after November will depend on lease negotiations the Dance Place is currently conducting with the building's new owners, but Dance Place artistic director Carla Perlo has said the series will definitely proceed whatever the location. The series' December events include Bebe Miller, from New York, also as part of the NPN, Dec. 13-15; and Jan Van Dyke, from San Francisco, Dec. 26-30.

The Washington Ballet leads off its Lisner series with a program that includes Goh's "Momentum" and "In the Glow of the Night," as well as the Washington premiere of Nebrada's "Firebird," to the Stravinsky score, Oct. 24-26. This season, the company is shifting its opening night from Wednesday to Thursday and shortening the run to four performances, with a matinee, as before, on Saturday.

Nearly half of the dancers will be new; among those returning from past seasons will be Cynthia Anderson, Lynn Cote, Lael Evans, John Goding, Elizabeth Guerin, Julie Miles and Janet Shibata. "Nutcracker" performances will start with a students' matinee Dec. 12 and 13, followed by a Dec. 13 opening night and running through Dec. 28.

Here's the rest of the dance calendar as it now appears, followed by highlights of the New Year: September

Claudia Murphey Dance Company, premiere of collaborative "Heat White," Harris Theatre, Sept. 19-21; Kalidoskopio of Greece, folk troupe, Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Sept. 20; showing of film highlights from the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library, American Film Institute, Sept. 27; The National Folk Ballet of Yugoslavia, Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Sept. 28. October

Dancers of the Third Age, free, Langdon Park Recreation Center, Oct. 2; Mary Buckley, free "Coffee Concert," Post Hall, Mount Vernon College, Oct. 3; Susheela Mehta, Bharata Natyam dancer from India, Baird Auditorium, Oct. 17; dancer-choreographer Alvin Mayes and others, collaborative program, Dance Arts Moving Arts, Oct. 26; joint American University/George Washington University dance program, featuring guest choreographers Lloyd Whitmore and Deborah Gladstein, video artist Sam Kanter and others, Marvin Theatre, Oct. 31-Nov. 2. November

Nancy Havlik and Beth Easterly, joint program, Dance Arts Moving Arts, Nov. 1-3; Dancers of the Third Age, in a new work by Don Zuckerman, Smithsonian Discovery Theatre, Nov. 5-30; Improvisations Unlimited, premiere of works by guest choreographer Jerry Pearson and artistic director Meriam Rosen, Studio EE, University of Maryland, Nov. 13-16; Sally Nash and Last Minute Wood Company, Washington premiere of "Box 48," Hand Chapel, Mount Vernon College, Nov. 16 and 17; Center Dance Ensemble II, "Stories of Chelm," Jewish Community Center, Nov. 17; Karen Serio, Lisa Johnson and Donna Metz, new choreography, Hand Chapel, Mount Vernon College, Nov. 23 and 24. December

George Mason University Dance Company, "Freedom of Information" by guest choreographers Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, plus other works, Harris Theatre, Dec. 5-7; Montgomery College Rockville Dance Company, MC Performing Arts Center, Dec. 6 and 7; Center Dance Ensemble, premiere of "Moments," Jewish Community Center, Dec. 14 and 15; Montgomery Ballet Company, "Cinderella," Publick Playhouse, Dec. 14 and 15. The New Year

The Kennedy Center's "Ballet in America" series continues with the Houston Ballet, presenting Ben Stevenson's "Swan Lake" and "Peer Gynt," as well as the company premiere of Joe Layton's "Grand Tour" to music by Noel Coward, Jan. 21-Feb. 2; the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Feb. 4-16; the Joffrey Ballet, with a revival of John Cranko's "Jeu de Cartes," and other repertory, March 19-23; American Ballet Theatre, with ballets to include "Romeo and Juliet" and "Giselle," plus several Washington premieres, April 2-20; and the Stuttgart Ballet, bringing Cranko's "Eugene Onegin" and the Washington premiere of John Neumeier's "A Streetcar Named Desire," May 27-June 7.

The "Dance America" series concludes with the Maria Benitez Spanish Dance Company at the Terrace Theater, March 5-8. The Washington Performing Arts Society will also be presenting the National Dance Company of Senegal at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Feb. 28.

Scheduled for the Dance Place series are Mark Taylor and Friends (January); Daniel McCusker and Company, Myrna Packer and Art Bridgman, Lesa McLaughlin and Dancers (February); Perlo/Bloom and Company, Douglas Dunn and Dancers (March); Liz Lerman and the Dance Exchange Performance Company, Toe Jam and Fresh Jelly (April); International Dance Week activities, and Donald Byrd and Company (May). In addition, other, self-produced events at Dance Place will be announced, as well as a summer series, contingent on a solution of the facilities problem.

The Washington Ballet will be at Lisner Feb. 6-8 with the premiere of a Matthew Diamond ballet, and again April 10-12 with the Judith Jamison and Choo San Goh premieres. Repertory for these performances will also include revivals of Goh's "Synonyms" and Balanchine's "Serenade," as well as several pas de deux.

The Dance Exchange expects to resume its stimulating performance-discussion series with guest artists and scholars from various disciplines and cities in the spring. Choreographer Maida Withers is working on a new piece for her Dance Construction Company for the new year and plans to organize another Washington Dance Directions festival at George Washington University in June. The Maryland Dance Theater will appear at Tawes Theatre April 5. The D.C. Contemporary Dance Theater will present a program including Loyce Houlton's "Wingborne" at Cramton Auditorium in January, and another, with a new work by Mike Malone, at UDC in April. The Daniel West Dancers will offer a premiere at the Montgomery College Performing Arts Center in March.

The Joffrey II company will be appearing at George Mason University's Harris Theatre on Jan. 22. At GMU's own Dance Company spring concert at the Harris in April, a new work by Marta Renzi will be shown. Choreographer Jeff Duncan will also have a studio showing at GMU the same month. Mount Vernon College plans to mount a sequel to last year's "Spring Moves" festival in April and May. Dance Arts Moving Arts is working on a dance film series. The Alexandria-based Coda troupe, about to choose a new artistic director, plans a gala performance in April, among other '86 activities. The Jewish Community Center has scheduled performances by the Center Dance Ensemble, the Deaf Dimensions troupe and Frances Smith Cohen and Friends at its own Kreeger Auditorium in 1986, but will present its annual Choreographers Showcase at the Publick Playhouse in February. Also at Publick Playhouse will be performances by the Kotobuki Kai troupe and the American Contemporary Ballet Company, both in June.

Finally, an appealing prospect for next summer: Kennedy Center says it may be presenting both the Paris Opera Ballet, led by Rudolf Nureyev, and the National Ballet of Spain.