At the Dance Place's Second Annual Improvisation Festival Saturday night, four originally scheduled participants had dropped out; one work not on the printed program was announced at the last minute; of the other four brief pieces, one was described as a "fragment," another as a "work-in-progress" (is this then an improvisation or a preliminary sketch?), and the remaining two were so clearly premeditated in structure that the impromptu elements were virtually negligible.

So what, you may ask -- isn't improvisation inherently unfettered, informal, a matter of making it up as you go along? Perhaps. On the other hand, there is a difference between spontaneous informality and idle, unprofessional chaos.

In "Enormous Changes at the Last Moment," David Appeal, who in the past has shown himself capable of subtle, disciplined movement, indulged in flaccid meanderings accompanied by sporadic and largely unintelligible verbal ramblings. His added duet with Nancy Galeota, while somewhat more energetic, was basically more of the same. Dianne Hunt went to the trouble of explaining beforehand that her "Mining" was inspired by a childhood infatuation with the Lone Ranger and a growing affection for popular songs, but the trite movement sequences that followed, though smoothly performed, bore no discernible relation to her preface. "Waking Sequence" and "Warp and Woof," the two quartets described as "directed by" Robyn Bowie, were on the level of kinder-garten exercises, both in conception and execution.

There's been a lively and productive tradition of dance improvisation in Washington; with this event more's the pity, since it did little to advance the genre.