Even in her relatively few performances around town, Cathy Paine has made clear that she is an unusually skilled and charismatic dancer. As part of the Dance Project's noteworthy annual series, she presented "Cathy Paine and Friends in Concert" Saturday night, and established that she is no less able or interesting as a choreographer.

Indeed, on the basis of this splendid program of five works she composed (with occasional collaborators) between 1974 and the present, one could faithfully say she's among the brightest lights on the Washington dance horizon. The music ranged from Vivaldi to bluegrass and the dances were equally diverse.

Paine's varied movement vocabulary, in addition to conventional turns and jumps, includes jogging runs, march steps, quick direction reversals, cartwheels, roll-overs, sagging flops, slow-motion and stop-action poses. Spatial designs were exceptionally clear, the dances often moving in parallel lanes, for example. The pieces had an edge of wit, but never of cuteness. Each work seemed to come from a strong conceptual base, and some used Brechtian devices to make the dancers' lives, onstage and off, a central part of the content.

"Overture," for example - a Paine solo making wonderfully unorthodox use of Berlioz - was about the fantasies that run through a dancer's head, including thoughts of bored or derisive critics, during the anxious seconds before performance begins. All the dancers - four women and three men - displayed strength, control and pressence.