This book is worth a lexicon of superlatives for its dozens of color photographs. From the front cover of Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov in ''The Sleeping Beauty'' to the back cover view of George Balanchine's ''Serenade ,'' the pictures sweep us through the international dance boom. Just the two-page spread of Merce Cunningham crouching within Robert Rauschenberg's pastel pointillist decor for Cunningham's ''Summerspace'' provides good reason for Abrams to have produced this volume.
John Gruen, knowledgeable author of many dance books, describes both plot and historical background for 62 ballets, with details that place the value of this book far beyond that of a coffeetable conversation piece. Serious students of the dance can learn from his commentaries and will be grateful for the appendix of significant first performances and glossary of ballet terms included at the back of the book.
The 62 ballets chosen by Gruen as ''great'' include ''Giselle,'' ''Deuce Coupe'' by Twyla Tharp and ''Untitled'' by Pilobolus. This electic approach gives some odd equations. A work by Jiri Kylian of the Netherlands Dance Theater is listed but none by Choo San Goh, who is now probably the most sought after young choreographer. However, there are no quibbles with the ballets that Gruen has picked out, with Balanchine and Marius Petipa most prominent among the choreographers because these works comprise the living heritage of dance.