Spend a blissful evening watching 'Baryshnikov by Twyla Tharp'

Whether or not you are a balletomane, you may find yourself jete-ing for joy at a totally delightful hour of dance planned for television by choreographer Twyla Tharp and danced by American Ballet Theatre's Mikhail Baryshnikov.

This season's premiere of ''Great Performances'' gets off to a rousing curtain-raiser with Baryshnikov by Twyla Tharp (Friday, Oct, 5, 9-10 p.m., check local listings). Along with members of the ABT, Baryshnikov takes viewers on an imaginative stroll through the vocabulary of dance, stopping here and there to perform three outstanding Tharp ballets: ''Sinatra Suite,'' ''Push Comes to Shove,'' and ''The Little Ballet.''

It's all informal, unpretentious, and even just a bit campy, with Baryshnikov performing in sweaters, shirt sleeves, and practice clothes, as well as a tuxedo for the Sinatra number. He clowns around, poking fun at himself and at formal ostentation, as he introduces what he obviously hopes is a general audience to the marvelous mysteries of ballet. It's all done with wit, style, panache. And exquisite skill, of course.

Both admirers of the dance and those TV viewers who prefer ''Mistral's Daughter'' can lean back and enjoy one of television's most joyous hours in years.

'So You Want to Be President'

''Are you sure Abe Lincoln started this way?'' jokes presidential hopeful Gary Hart as he carries his own bag to a waiting car early one grim campaign morning.

The answer is actually: 'No, Abe Lincoln did not have to go through the grueling obstacle course of a series of television debates, press conferences, and electronic primaries.'' So You Want to Be President (PBS, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 8 -10 p.m., check local listings) is the season premiere show of PBS's award-winning ''Frontline,'' television's only regularly scheduled documentary series. And it traces Hart's campaign from the lonely pre-New Hampshire days to his final appearance at the Democratic convention in San Francisco.

In between those two periods, producer Sherry Jones, who spent more than a year following the Hart campaign, photographed it all - press conferences, behind-the-scenes strategy conferences, bar conversations with reporters, campaign plane gossip. All the ups and downs of the roller-coaster campaign are there - complete with all of the boredom, disappointment, and euphoria.

It is sad for this viewer to watch the footage in which Hart becomes progressively more tired looking, more haggard. And it is totally enervating for me to see the facade of optimism which this candidate, which any candidate, as a matter of fact, must constantly wear even though time is obviously running out.

As the documentary points out, ''The hardest thing of all is to know when to say it's over.'' Gary Hart waited, and there is a look of victory even in defeat as he calls for the unanimous nomination of Walter Mondale when he finally decided it was over for him. Sure, ''So You Want to Be President'' is old history. But it is also future history, because the presidential primaries seem to be a permanent part of the American political scene. As long as the presidential primary process seems to be in store for us in years to come, I recommend this two-hour nonfiction melodrama as one of the best ways for us to get to understand the phenomenon.

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