This introduction is accessible and generally en pointe, for seasoned goers faced with unfamiliar works and companies, but especially for the novice who wants a grip on the productions he catches as he can. Perhaps its origins in the Royal Ballet's Ballet for All (Bernstein-style performance plus exposition, which Brinson conceived for would-be British balletomanes) has something to do with it. At any rate, this is organized for maximum clarity both as a capsule history and as a handbook. Ranging from 1653 to 1969 -- from the Ballet Royal de la Nuit originally starring Louis XIV to recent works by Cranko, Bejart, and Joffrey -- it concentrates on the major choreographers in period-by-period chronology and includes only works which are based on classical danse d'ecole and presently in the repertory of some company, somewhere in the world. Behind the latter specification is the rather idealistic hope that these ballets will be seen as well as read about -- in some cases a more likely possibility for the book's original British audience than for Americans without Brinson's series. And since it is an English book, the contemporary sections are inevitably weighted in favor of British choreographers (Americans may miss, e.g., Arpino and Feld). Crisp is ballet critic for the Spectator, and the U.S. sections were supervised by The New York Times's Don McDonagh and John Percival of the London Times.