"Gesture in Dance" was the theme of the program at the Dance Exchange last night, one of a series of informal performances that includes audience discussion with the choreographers after the dancing. As Nancy Galeota, who arranged the evening's fare, remarked at the start, the word "gesture" is very broad in connotation: "All dance is gesture," she said, and it's a defensible thesis. In ordinary parlance, though, one probably thinks of gesture as an action originating with the hands, arms or upper body, and specifically expressive in intent, as opposed, say, to a dance "step." In any case, last night's repertoire had enough pieces generally based on gesture in this sense to illustrate the radically diverse possibilities inherent in gestural choreography.

The evening also served to display recent work by a relatively new generation of Washington choreographers, one that has emerged over the past three or four years. Among the most promising of this group is Sharon Wyrrick, whose Full Circle company performed excerpts from two recent, strongly compelling pieces -- "Visitor" and "Task" -- as well as a new work, "Sunder," intended as part of a larger opus to be completed next spring. The latter gives signs of being Wyrrick's richest and most riveting choreography to date, evolving increasingly complex but always lucid group structures (it's for 10 dancers) to the beat of a mysteriously tense, layered, pulse-music score by Anthony Davis. One could feel the energy of the ensemble drawing momentum from the kinetic logic of the choreography, growing and gathering into a knot of magnetic compulsion. As it happens, arm gesture plays a central role in the imagery.

The pair of works by Priscilla Barden and her group bore superficial resemblances to Wyrrick's idiom -- Barden, too, has a penchant for ritualistic patterning and trance-like sonic accompaniment. But "Edge," a duet, and "What do you do with the pieces?," a quartet, advance fitfully from phrase to phrase without much sense of overall development, and the imagery rises above platitude only sporadically. Martha Brim's "Faded Love," an affectionately satirical sketch about sentimental longings and regrets set to Patsy Cline country ballads, makes its points nicely, if a bit too often.

An untitled duet devised and smartly danced by Meade Andrews and Leslie Quill had the feeling of a compositional exercise -- variations on an outstretched arm. In the opening "Fish," choreographed by Tish Carter and danced by her and Galeota, the shuttling between card-playing and movement interludes is never quite convincing--the card game remains enigmatic, the dancing humdrum and the connection between the two elusive. On the whole, however, the program seemed a nicely balanced menu of contrasts, and each work had its share of stimulation.