The Martha Graham Dance Company and members of the Royal Danish Ballet made their only New York appearances of the season when they shared a performance Wednesday night in Carnegie Hall. The occasion was a benefit arranged by the Danish American Society for the establishment of an exchange scholarship program for Danish and American students of the performing arts.
The Graham company saluted Denmark with Miss Graham's ''Acts of Light,'' a suite of ritualistic dances to music by Carl Nielsen, Denmark's greatest modern composer. The piece began well with a lovers' duet for Takako Asakawa and Peter Sparling. But a dance of lamentation led by Yuriko Kimura and a ceremony of affirmation were less effective, through no fault of the cast.
Although dance troupes have performed there over the years, Carnegie Hall was not designed for dancing; its stage restricts group movement. And although Carnegie's acoustics for live performances are rightfully acclaimed, the tinny sound system used for the gala's recorded scores lessened the music's impact.
At the conclusion of ''Acts of Light,'' Miss Graham, who was present in one of the boxes, received a standing ovation, and Preben Hansen, Denmark's Under Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs, presented an autographed portrait of Nielsen to Edward H. Michaelsen, Carnegie Hall's managing director. The portrait had originally been given by Nielsen to Mr. Michaelsen's uncle, Carl Johann Michaelsen, one of the composer's friends and patrons. It will hang in Carnegie Hall's portrait gallery next to portraits of two other Scandinavian composers, Grieg and Sibelius.
The Danish dancers were welcome visitors, but the stage cramped their style in the divertissements from August Bournonville's ''Napoli,'' one of the classics of 19th-century Danish ballet. This sequence of twinkling variations followed by a tarantella can be one of the most exhilarating passages in all ballet. But, perhaps understandably, given the circumstances, the Danish dancers were slightly cautious at Carnegie.
Caution also took some of the bounce out of the pas de deux from Bournonville's ''Flower Festival at Genzano,'' danced by Linda Hindberg and Peter Martins. On this occasion, Mr. Martins, now one of the balletmasters in chief of the New York City Ballet, returned as guest artist to the company that trained him. He, too, did not look at ease on the stage, and it did not help matters that for much of the duet latecomers kept roaming the aisles in search of seats until the rude choreographic activity of the audience threatened to overshadow Bournonville's choreography.
The evening's real success was the Danes' performance of Hans van Manen's ''Songs Without Words.'' This ballet by a contemporary Dutch choreographer did not seem to promise any surprises, for it has been presented here by other companies, including that of Alvin Ailey. Yet it proved a revelation as interpreted by Frank Andersen, Mogens Boesen, Tina Holman, Ib Jeppesen, Eva Kloborg, Heidi Ryom, Lise Stripp and Arne Villumsen, with Jens Andersen playing its Mendelssohn score on the piano.
Often, this ballet is danced as if its constant stops and starts constituted an almost clinical analysis of Romantic attitudes. As such, it is a commentary on Romanticism. But, possibly because they have their own Romantic traditions, the Danes turned it into a direct expression of Romantic feelings and the smallness of choreographic scale made the ballet suitable for this stage. Frank Andersen was euphoric in a bounding solo, Mr. Villumsen resembled a moody Byronic poet and his duet with Mr. Jeppesen became a struggle between mysterious powers. Here was familiar choreography in an unfamiliar light.
Neel Resling Halpern, chairman of the benefit, opened the evening with a message of welcome. The gala's honorary chairmen were William Thune-Andersen, the Danish Consul General, and Otto R. Borch, the Danish Ambassador to the United States.