It takes a special kind of guts to face an audience of eight (including three from the press) and perform with the same intensity one would bring to a full house. David Appel, who braved such an ordeal so valorously at WPA last night, was a luckless victim of competition with the City Dance festival, and more's the pity, because he's an artist of formidable and unusual powers.

To get the bad news over with all at once, "Matter," Appel's hour-long solo, has its off putting sides. Fortunately, the work itself is nowhere as pretentious as the program notes, which speak of "the seven chakras" and "partial transduction" and the like. But Appel's approach is so unremittingly reductionist one sometimes wonders whether his movement explorations -- however sporadically interesting -- don't belong in a laboratory, rather than on public view.

The vocalizations he emits while moving, moreover, are supposed to be "healing sounds," but it's not at all clear who's being healed and of what.

All the same, within the hardcore minimalism he cultivates, Appel is a virtuoso, one whose control of rhythm, balance, energy and shape borders on the amazing. His lunges, falls, squats, rolls and strange pawings of space are loose and spongy in ways that suggest Tai Chi. But there are also sudden spasmodic seizures and squalls of movement that offer striking dynamic contrast. Appel makes one see and feel movement in new ways, and that's more than sufficient justification for a dance artist.