Meriam Rosen, dancer, teacher and choreographer at the University of Maryland, has been a behind-the-scenes spark of Washington dance life for so long -- over two decades -- that it was gratifying to find her at the center of a WPA showcase last night. The ambitious program of eight "dance theater" works, all by Rosen, called for 15 dancers, lighting designer Alan Rafel and three musicians, including composer David Freivogel, who has a fine affinity for dance. On the whole, the evening testified to a choreographic imagination of admirable range, thoughtfulness and imagistic potency.

There were, however, structural weaknesses. "Nocturne," for example, opened strikingly with a nightgowned female figure, seemingly 12 feet tall, held still in a thin cone of light.The adagio twirl which followed keenly suggested a dreamlike involution and confinement. Once the idea had been set forth, though, it never developed or traveled beyond its initial impetus. This kind of shortcoming, moreover, afflicted nearly everything else on the program to one degree or another. There was movement, but little sense of thematic progression.

The terrorized scampering of "Nightscape" though acutely danced by guest artist John Wiatt, looked hackneyed. "Waiting," a feminist soliloquy, seemed uncertain in tone and too laden with Grahamesque cliches. Similarly, "Allegro/Adagio" resembled Paul Taylor's neo-baraque pieces too closely for comfort, and a flaccid performance didn't help.

The other four works were far stronger. "Three Times," seen at city Dance this year, plays inventively, if at times cutely, with temporal perceptions and olden days. The trio of curvaceously flexing women in "Veiled Gathering" had a telling sense of sensuous reverie. In "Heavy Air/Endless Passage," the length of soft gray cloth envelopng Wiatt and Debbie Yamaki helped project a feeling of linked agitation, intimacy and dependence in the duo's slumber. Most compelling of all was "Party of Six," a nightmarish cabaret turn for six sullen, stoned-looking characters out of Emil Nolde, whose insinuating gestures, from twisting an earring to adjusting a cuff, were pointed symbols of doom and anomie.