"The system is ridiculously cumbersome, terribly bureaucratic," says American choreographic wunderkind Mark Morris about the administrative cobwebs at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie, the Brussels opera house where his dance company has been in residence since 1988.

"It's terribly irksome, but I think I've gotten used to it, I think I get it now. I know who not to pass a message through. I've figured out how I can function, if I can just be left alone."

His troupe, the Monnaie Dance Group/Mark Morris, returns to the Kennedy Center Tuesday night for a week of performances in the "Dance America" series at the Eisenhower Theater, part of a brief U.S. tour that began with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and includes stops in Burlington, Vt., and Ottawa as well.

Morris has been in Washington with his company twice before under the "Dance America" banner, first in 1985 and then 1987, both times in stunning programs at the Terrace Theater. In 1988 his wonderfully wry, quirky, orientally flavored choreography for John Adams's opera "Nixon in China" was seen at the center's Opera House. The fall of that year he departed for Belgium to commence a three-year stint at the beautiful, 1,200-seat Monnaie, in one of the dance world's most unusual developments of the decade -- an American modern dancer enjoying in a European capital a kind of financial support, security and lavishness of physical facility that would be unthinkable at home.

The peripatetic theater director Peter Sellars was the catalyst who brought about Morris's transplantation. In 1987, Sellars persuaded Gerard Mortier, director of the Monnaie, to travel to Stuttgart to see Morris and his company perform, knowing that Mortier was in search of a replacement for Maurice Bejart, who'd left in dispute with the management and taken his company to Lausanne after almost three decades' residence in Brussels. Mortier was an instant Morris convert and soon extended the invitation for the move to the Monnaie.

By the time he left for Belgium, the Seattle-born Morris, now 34, had already become the most passionately admired and widely discussed young choreographer in this country. He had formed his own troupe, with the name Mark Morris Dance Group, in 1980, and in five short years, after a phenomenal spate of creative activity and touring, he had garnered an almost unprecedented amount of public attention and critical acclaim, though there were a handful of detractors as well.

In Belgium, however, Morris encountered a groundswell of resentment and hostility, partly from the public, partly from the press, especially the French-language critics (the Flemish have been generally more favorably disposed toward Morris). He became the center of a storm of controversy, with partisans of Bejart ranged on one side, and a smaller cadre of fervent Morris supporters on the other. A major Brussels daily ran the headline "Mark Morris Go Home!" and stories about his latest works began to take on the aspect of dispatches from the front. Somehow, the affair seemed further exaggerated when Mortier, his champion, announced that he'd be leaving the Monnaie to assume direction of the Salzburg Festival in 1992. The situation has had all the earmarks of an international cultural scandal, far bigger than earlier ones that plagued Morris in the wake of his unconventional life and work -- his occasional use of nudity, his openness about being gay. Nor did it help that Morris, ever outspoken, had a knack for getting quoted in derisive commentary about Bejart and contemporary Belgian choreographers.

Still, if the opera house bureaucracy and Belgian response to his work have been sources of irritation for Morris, he's also fully cognizant of and thankful for the unique opportunities and resources his stay in Brussels has afforded him.

The opera house administrators "have been very cooperative about the giant new 'Nutcracker' I'm doing," Morris says, referring to a production of the Tchaikovsky classic that will have its premiere at the Monnaie this winter. "Very cooperative and very supportive. And it's been fabulous" -- this is one of his favorite words -- "to have all my dancers in the same room all day, every day. It's been fabulous too, not having to scrounge for money continually, as you do in the States all the time. In Belgium too, I've also been able to do some bigger sorts of pieces -- my 'L'Allegro,' for instance {his enchanting, evening-length setting of Handel's oratorio, "L'Allegro, Il Pensoroso ed il Moderato," on texts by Milton and Charles Jenner}. I would never have done the recent work I've done, especially 'L'Allegro,' without having an orchestra at my disposal as well. For all this I'm grateful, very grateful."

At the Kennedy Center this week, Morris and his troupe will show two alternating programs: "Canonic 3/4 Studies" to piano waltzes, "Pas de Poisson" to Satie, "Going Away Party" to songs by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and "Love Song Waltzes" to Brahms on the first; and on the second, "New Love Song Waltzes," again to Brahms, "Behemoth" in silence, and "Gloria" to choral music by Vivaldi.

This wide spectrum of musical types, strongly reflected in the diversity of Morris's choreographic modes and stratagems, is altogether typical of his work. In other of the more than threescore dances he's made since 1980, one finds him turning to music by Verdi, Harry Partch, Beethoven, Virgil Thomson, Conlon Nancarrow, Stravinsky, Mozart, the Violent Femmes, Poulenc, John Adams, Schubert, Gluck, Yoko Ono, Dohnanyi, the Louvin Brothers, Lou Harrison, Tcherepnin, Schoenberg, and folk music from Thailand, India, Romania and Tahiti, among other sources.

Baroque music has a special attraction for him; the list of Baroque composers he's choreographed includes, besides Handel and Vivaldi, also Bach, Purcell, Pergolesi and Couperin.

"I listen to loads of Baroque music all the time," Morris says. I do hours and hours of Bach. Last summer I choreographed his Cantata No. 134 {the dance is called "Ein Herz"} for the Paris Opera Ballet. The dance is pretty dry, very mathematical, fugues and all that, but I love it."

He characteristically makes his dances working with the score of the music he's using. "Always, always, always with a score. I learned to read music from my father, and I played the piano as a kid briefly, badly. I used to choreograph using tapes of the music, and the score, but now I've got a wonderful pianist, Linda Dowdell, our company pianist, who I met at the University of Washington. She goes through the scores with a fine tooth comb with me, and she's right with me all the time -- at rehearsals, I'm constantly shouting, 'Hey Linda, let's start on the pickup to bar 65.' "

Some critics have taken Morris to task on occasion for adhering to the musical prosody too closely in his choreography, but it doesn't faze him.

"I've been accused of 'Mickey-Mousing' the music. So what? Walt Disney is my favorite choreographer. If the dance is closely related to the music, they say it's too obvious, too easy. But if it gives me pleasure, and others, why not?"

He admits to being addicted to music. "I go to record stores and buy all kinds of ridiculous stuff. I just have to hear it. It's not 'research.' Most of the stuff I listen to I never even dream of making a dance to. I just have a need to listen to music, that's all."

Morris's contract in Brussels expires next June, and he has no expectation of being asked to stay beyond that. At the moment, he's intending to return to the States, but he has few concrete commitments thus far. With Jeremy Alliger, director of Dance Umbrella and a longtime Morris advocate, he has been planning a possible annual residence in Boston for 10 weeks or more, but at this stage nothing's been settled. If he had his druthers, Morris would love to have a theater of his own somewhere in this country, but he sees no real possibility of this happening. He'd also like to approximate more closely at home the circumstances of his privileged Brussels years. "I'd love to be able to rehearse for weeks at a clip, and to tour for weeks and have week-long performance series in cities, with real music, instead of the horrible stupid one- or two-night stands that make being your best impossible."

One definite domestic enterprise Morris will be tangentially but crucially involved with is the so-called White Oak Dance Project, an itinerant troupe led by Mikhail Baryshnikov and also including some of the nation's finest dancers: Rob Besserer, who formerly danced with Martha Clarke; Peggy Baker and Nancy Colahan of the Lubovitch company; Jamie Bishton of American Ballet Theatre; Kate Johnson of the Paul Taylor troupe; and William Pizzuto and Denise Pons of the Boston Ballet. Under Baryshnikov's direction, the project will tour 18 cities transcontinentally, performing an all-Morris program, including a new work, "Motorcade," specially created for the White Oak group, which will make its debut Oct. 24 in Boston under Dance Umbrella auspices. Of "Motorcade," Morris says, "I'm using the Saint-Saens 'Septet' for trumpet, piano and strings -- it's very weird music. The piece moves really fast, and it's very classical. I'm into classical thinking now -- not ballet, you understand, but classicism."

At the moment, Morris's chief enthusiasm is the coming "Nutcracker" production, which will have a cast of about 30 plus such guest artists as Baryshnikov and Besserer. Morris is collaborating on the concept and design with artist Charles Burns, known mainly for his contributions to Raw comics.

" 'The Nutcracker' will be set somewhere between the '50s and the '70s. There'll be, of course, a giant, growing tree, but there'll be no children in the cast. I'll do some of the dancing, the Arabian Dance for sure. The atmosphere will be slightly suburban -- there'll be a prominent TV set, of course. No magic Kingdom of Sweets, though. Instead, I'm doing the Krakatuk tale from the original Hoffmann story, about a 15-year search through the world for Krakatuk, the nut that's too hard to crack. That's how the second act's national dances -- the Arabian, the Spanish and so on -- will come into it, naturally, as part of the search for the hard nut."