The most interesting things about the Bauer Dance Ensemble, which gave the first of three performances at the Washington Project for the Arts last night, are that it hails from Milwaukee and that it's bravely making a stab at a contemporary mode of expression.

The six-member ensemble (plus one apprentice) tours the Midwest from its base in Wisconsin. Its founder-director is Susie Bauer, whose background indicates studies with Merce Cunningham. Bauer is also a principal dancer of the troupe and its sole choreographer, often collaborating with resident composer James Pease.

Unfortunately , on the evidence of last night's assortment, Bauer's pieces amount to little more than laboriously contrived busywork.

The dances had intriguingly varied titles ("Curved Air," "Cracked Good," "Night of the Electric Insects," among them, props "(including suspended sheets of foil, a folding chair, hydra-like columns), and music (by Terry Riley, George Crumb and Pease). But apart from such accoutrements, they seemed much the same, and depressingly lacking in compositional individuality or substance. There was no freshness to the movement material, which consisted of cliche steps, falls and poses combined in a manner suggesting recycled Cunningham. More seriously, it was hard to discern a motivating energy or rhythm anywhere in these works.

The dancers all seemed decently skilled, but their dancing, perhaps by contagion from the choreography, looked and felt flat -- it was just bodies moving from place to place without quality, nuance or dynamic inpetus.