A number of years have passed since dancer-choreographer Erick Hawkins was last seen in the Washington area. His apperance with his troupe last night, therefore, in the first of two programs at the University of Maryland's Tawes Theatre, came as a bracing reminder of the man's extrodinarily independent turn of mind, and the singular creative vision that has emanated from it.

Hawkins originality is a projection of his own complex personality, but the seeds can be located too in his fascinatingly errant background. Colorado-born, and a Greek scholar at Harvard, he recieved his early dance Blanchine's classically oriented School of American Ballet, before meeting up with Martha Graham and becoming the first male in the troupe of this prophetess of modern dance, as well as her leading partner for a dozen years. When he broke from Graham in the early 50's, he veered, as did other celebrated Graham apostates, in a direction totally opposed to her psychologically driven, angst-ridden esthetics.

The consequences were clearly manifest in last night's program. There was, for example, the unstressful, free-flowing movement idiom Hawkins has developed, so beautifully exemplified in the work of the present troupe of eight dancers, as well as in his own performances (though in the vicinity 70, he's still a formidable presence on stage). There was his absolute insistance on live music, herein verified by an excellent ensemble of seven instrumentalists conducted by Glenn Rubin as well as the musical contents of the evening -- three commissioned scores by American composers. Equally striking was the original and highly imaginative decor for each of the three works.

The scuptural props and ingenious costuming have an odd resonance -- they remind us that there are still two prominent aspects of Hawkins work that are akin to Graham, one being the powerful feeling for visual imagery, the other a predilection for American themes. "Agathlon" is a danced panorama, a haunting impression in movement and pose of the Monument Valley cragginess that inspired it. "Plains Daybreak," with its wondrous animal masks, summons Indian rituals of the Southwest in imagery strongly evocative of Georgia O'Keefe. And "Parson Weems and the Cherry Tree, Etc.," though too long by half, takes childlike delight in gentle ribbing of our common patriotic mythology. Hawkins' world is classical in an idyllic sense -- there's no strife or squalor; it's a place of tranquil, poetic epiphanies and there's nothing else quite like it in dance.