The Jan Taylor Dance Theatre displayed seven of Taylor's current pieces last night in the new and attractive, if drastically compact, performing space at the Washington Project for the Arts. The company of eight puts out a lot of energy. What bounces back from it, however, is mostly a sense of hectic expenditure without discernible character or goal.

Taylor's work dawdles, like much other choreography one sees hereabouts, on the fringe of professionalism. It's too "advanced" in craft to be classified as apprentice or amateur, but far too amorphous and insubtantial to be taken seriously on any level as dance art. At best, perhaps, it qualifies as theatricalized recreation.

Taylor has an instinct for picturesque gimmickry--"Crystalina" has crinkly, plastic sheaths for the dancers that rustle sibilantly; "Omnivore" puts two men in loincloths against jungle drums; "Sherbet" features jogging in running shoes and flirtatious boy-girl competition; "Atmospheric Conditions" plays music hall games with colorful umbrellas. But there's no sign of invention or flair in the choreography, just a patching together of cliche's from diverse idioms. And though the dancing reflects the considerable training of the individual troupe members, it's sloppy in basic ways. Taylor herself is rather slapdash in action, and she doesn't seem to demand from the dancers the qualities her own performance lacks--sharply defined phrases, steps, shapes. In one spot, when a dancer stumbles and falls in a lame attempt at choreographic whimsy, it's not easy to tell whether it's by accident or design.

The evening did afford a further glimpse of Mary Williford, who's been emerging recently as an especially gifted, attractive dancer on the local scene. In material such as this, however, there wasn't much scope for her ability to reveal itself. Like the others involved, she did the best she could with unrewarding material.