Just when you're being overtaken by one of those periodic bouts of despair, thinking you may never see anything original, disturbing and deep in contemporary dance ever again, along comes someone like Bill T. Jones, with his hour-long, world-premiere solo "Sisyphus" at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater last night, to remind you that art always has unforseeable ways of replenishing itself.

The funny thing was one could tell this dancer and this work were going to constitute something important and out of the ordinary from the first few moments, when the stage was still shrouded in darkness and Jones had scarcely moved. It's hard to say exactly what it is that so quickly identifies the magnitude and maturity of a dance artist -- a wholeness and unity of movement, even in the smallest of details, a sense of meaningfulness even where meanings remain elusive, perhaps. Whatever it may be, Jones surely has it.

"Sisyphus" turned out to be an intricatelly layered dance monologue in three parts, involving not only movement and gesture, but spoken and recorded verbal musings, a patch of moodily hypnotic music by Helen Thorington, some props like a long, flat table and suspended ropes, and an ingenious light plot by William Yehle. One might sum it up as a rumination on the life of an artist as a loner, wanderer and seeker.

In its autobiographical aspects and cyclic layout, the work reminded one of Kei Takel and Meredith Monk; in its monodrama format and mythological allusions, it evoked Daniel Nagrin's remarkable "Peloponnesian War" solo of 1968. But Jones' fusion, full of bite and humor, is incisively his own. For one thing, he folds into the mix an amazingly comprehensive spectrum of movement, ranging from walking, running and acrobatics to swayings that resemble hula and poses that have a look of carved bronze. For another, Jones has a unique state persona, at once offhand and intense, understated and riveting. Here's hoping he can be lured back to Washington soon.

Jones can be seen again tonight at the Terrace Theater in a collaborative program with dancer-choreographer Arnie Zane.