The McLean Ballet Company will perform this concert at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday in the McLean Community Center. Tickets are $3 for adults, $2 for children, students and senior citizens. For more information, call 356-3048.

In the Soviet Union, crowds gather in the streets to hear their poets; in Europe, nearly every mayor city has a government-subsidized ballet and opera company. The Indian sub-continent supports a flourishing group of itinerant puppeteers. And in the United States? We support Kenny Rogers, the Bee Gees, Studs Terkel and Sheriff Lobo.

That's an exaggerated view, of course, but it's fair to say that Americans are not crazy about ballet. As a nation, our skimpy mental dance file contains scraps of information like (1) if it's December, they must be doing "The Nutcracker"; (2) Mikhail Baryshnikov sure can jump; (3) Agnes de Mille is old.

It is this backdrop that makes Molly Vick's achievement with the McLean Ballet Company so impressive. Vick, the founder and artistic director of the troupe, has steered the self-styled "semi-professional" resident company through 21 seasons of innovative dance in a town that is more bedroom than city.

Along the way, she has won the support of Virginia luminaries (Lynda Bird Robb is honorary chairman of the company this year) and local businesses (The Heidelberg Bakery donates cakes). Vick had gone to New York to seek fresh talent and expanded her own grasp of dance. Last summer, she took jazz classes in New York, an undertaking reflected in this season's opening performances.

The concert includes four works, ranging from straight ballet to jazz solo and ending with a multimedia work originally commissioned for the group during the Bicentennial.

The opening piece is set to Claude Bolling's "Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano," a playful, flirtatious work choreographed by Vick as something between exaggerated ballet and timid jazz. The first movement has the whole troupe on stage, setting a joyful tone.

In the second movement, the object seems to be to find new ways to get Ruby Shirakawa, prima ballerina, off the ground, a goal amply fulfilled by her partner, Dale Crittenberger.

Crittenberger performs a pas de deux with Phillippe Stein-Schneider in the third movement -- a bit of ballet gymnastics that is fun to watch. Then the women return, the dance gets jazzier and the music stops on an upbeat note.

The second piece is slower and more somber, set to Bach's grand "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor." It is classic ballet -- with dancers clad in pink chiffon picking up the individual strains of the music in choregraphed harmony -- and it is beautiful to watch.

But it doesn't quite work. The music is heavy, large and impressive; the dancers flowing, small and pretty. The result is a clunky imbalance.

For the third piece, the troupe imported New York City jazz dancer Andrea Llewellyn, who portrays a big, brash, peacock. Her angles are sharp, and her movement is intense and controlled as she struts and stretches around the stage. If NBC changes back to its old logo, it should seriously consider hiring Llewellyn.

The McLean troupe is back for the finale, one of those dancing/singing/playing/slide show affairs that muddy up quickly if they are not done well. The key to mixing media is to keep each element simple -- a key Vick understands clearly.

Called "Tribute to America," the piece runs through our country's history in song and dance. A quartet of volunteer singers performs the songs effectively and with a minimum of harmony to the onstage guitar and banjo music of composer David Arnold.

And the dance -- well, try to imagine what professional ballet dancer can do to the Charleston and square dancing.

This is the sort of idea that made the Bicentennial celebration work, and bringing it back during posthostage patriotism is a stroke of genius. The piece is mournful (during the Civil War section, slides fade hauntingly from a cannon to the grave), funny (with some great character dancing from the Roaring '20s by Susan Jones Dale Crittenberger), fascinating (during the section on the Industrial Revolution, the dancers use their bodies to create a machine), and funky (at the end, the troupe goes disco).