It's mind-boggling to learn that avant-garde choreographer Carmen Beuchat began as a ballerina in her native Chile. Judging from her performance last night at the Washington Project for the Arts, the lady's done a complete about-face since those early days.

It's Beachat's subsequent influence -- Kei Takei, Trisha Brown, Barbara Dilley -- that help explain her spare, pulseless, oddly riveting style of movement. She never preens or poses, sports Adidas and closely cropped hair, often seems to be accomplishing tasks rather than dancing. The problem of getting from Point A to Point B is of far greater concern to her than the proper extension of a leg or the perfect arabesque.

This is not to say that Beuchat shuns the theatrical. While her movement is indeed simple, limited, workmanlike, her use of sound, film, lighting and costumes creates detailed, almost opulent stage environments. "Gettin Off the Ground," to Mahler, has her dressed as a referee, hopping and stepping over a latticework of crisscrossed strings. "Bach: Variation 1" juxtaposes the dancer's spiraling form with her partner, Michael Moneagle's blase positioning and repositioning of a grey cube, while "Variation No. 2" centers on Beuchat's interaction with a wig, skirt, and pair of underpants suspended on strings before her.

"Alma Mater," a mixed-media wonder, presents the audience with two screen images: the filmed image of a nude, masked, spinning woman, and the first autumnal, then snowbound shadowland inhabited by silhouettes of a man, a table and chair, a newspaper, and two glasses of wine. As a voice reads and rereads a Neruda poem, Beauchat whirls with the woman, enters the shadowland and makes love to the male silhouette, and treads back and forth in an anguished, openmouthed state.

Beauchat's mysterious dances continue tonight at 8 p.m.