One of the most exciting things avid dance-watching affords is the chance to follow the evolution of a young, burgeoning company like Maryland Dance Theater. Now over a decade old, the troupe has grown into one of the most virtuosic of local ensembles, with a repertoire -- painstakingly selected by directors Anne and Larry Warren -- of an expanding mix of modern dance classics, new work by contemporary artists and the occasional in-house contribution. An intelligence, an understanding of tradition and a commitment to balance and detail seem to be percolating through the group.

The troupe's appearance this weekend at the Publick Playhouse should be manna for anyone interested in the weighty, spiritually cleansing dances of early modern-dance pioneer Doris Humphrey. Humphrey, perhaps the most passionate and clear-minded dance-maker of her era, will be represented on the program by two disparate works: "The Shakers" and "Brandenburg Concerto." Created in 1931, and reconstructed here by Anne Warren, "The Shakers" depicts in simultaneously severe and ecstatic terms that early American sect of Quakers who devoted themselves to pacifism, purity and all things unadorned and simple. It's no small feat for a band of 1980s performers to beat their feet into the earth and portray a communal release of celibacy-induced frustrations and religious fervor, but the group manages to pull it off. "Brandenburg Concerto," the choreographer's last work, is a different sort of ode, to Bach and shell shapes and the gossamer webs that a group of dancers spin out of empty air.

Then come the choreographic dream and nightmare. Anne Warren's "Damascene," to an Eastern-sounding score by West Coast composer Lou Harrison, literally "unfurls," luxuriating in reeling, rolling movement in the arms, on the ground, even in flight. The nightmare, Larry Warren's "Groundplan," features an alternately bewitched and troubled artist downstage, beset by warring images and characters -- sylphs, funeral processions, mannequins -- that filter through his brain as he composes a new work.

The Maryland troupe's "show-off" dance is "And. . .," New York choreographer Matthew Diamond's high-voltage, lift-strewn, athletic and sexy piece to the pulsing music of Jean Michael Jarre. Look for fireworks from the six dancers who crackle through this number. MARYLAND DANCE THEATER -- Friday and Saturday at 8 at the Publick Playhouse, 5445 Landover Road, Cheverly; $6 general admission, $4 for students and senior citizens. Call 277-1710.