The Dance Project launched its fifth annual dance performance series this year with a commendably adventurous gambit -- "Two Weekends of Washington Dance," presenting a total of six area-based troupes in back-to-back programs combining a pair of groups at a time. The weekends involved -- the one just passed and the coming one -- have been arranged so that each group will have two showings in the cozy Dance Project space. Audience horizons are expanded too, since the program format tends to break through the normal barriers of each group's "regular" following.

The seating area was packed to the gills for the inaugural program Saturday evening, featuring DC Wheel Productions, led by dancer Carla Perlo and musician Steve Bloom, and Choreo 18, the resident modern dance troup of the Jewish Community Center.

The program itself, however, was disappointingly mediocre -- an assortment of tepid, half-baked or unclarified ideas, all rather patchily set forth. A small but symptomatic deficiency was the lighting; the staging of nearly every dance confused lack of illumination with "atmosphere."

DC Wheel offered six separate short works, but the nub of the performances was the engaging rapport between Perlo and Bloom -- clearly, they inspire each other. Bloom's drumming, however, though impressively virtuosic, was otherwise lacking in musical interest, and though Perlo's dancing was fairly disciplined, her choreography was so vaguely motivated and cliche-ridden (the style is that all-purpose, anonymous "modern" that spreads like tooth plaque across our dance landscape) that very little got communicated.

As for Choreo 18, the technical level of the dancing, despite one or two adept individuals, was so far under par that even the evening's one solidly professional piece of choreography -- Cathy Paine's attractively frolicsome "Truck Farming in Suburban Maryland" -- lost more than half of its fizz as a result. In the case of Susan Jamieson's "Chant" and Jean Isaac's "Street Song," there wasn't much to lose to begin with.