Most of us tend to think of New York and California as artistic, trend- setting meccas. But there are folks out there in Omaha, Duluth and Chicago who are expressing themselves in some pretty novel ways. Charlie Vernon, for instance.

For the past six years, this Chicago choreographer has been making dances every bit as intriguing as those fashioned by the Manhattan brainchilds. His dances are full of athletic, straightforward movement accompanied by often humorous narration. Unlike most artists, Vernon has worked as a critic as well -- one of the best ways for a choreographer to both educate himself and refine his style.

Only recently have Vernon and his company begun to venture beyond the Midwest. Last summer, while participating in the Young Companies in Residence program at the American Dance Festival, Vernon met University of Maryland dance professor Mim Rosen, who arranged for him to come East and work with her group, Improvisations Unlimited. The result of that project, as well as three of Vernon's own pieces, will be presented this weekend at the university's College Park campus.

The choreographer's collaboration with Rosen's troupe is part spoof, part dance-history lesson, and very much a communal effort. And the score is not to be believed: a Pete Seeger arrangement of one theme from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, the March of the Toreadors, Air for the G String, Pachelbel's notorious Canon and an aria sung by Renata Tebaldi.

Vernon and three members of his company will present "Dances of Many Lands," a "mock-anthropological study" inspired by a trip to Europe; "Dances of Identity," a quartet set to stories about the performers and their parents; and "The Little Dream Dances," a solo that chronicles a sleepless night and asks funny and terrifying questions about the creative process through war and other imagery. CHARLIE VERNON AND DANCERS WITH IMPROVISATIONS UNLIMITED -- This Friday and Saturday at 8 in the EE Studio/Theater, University of Maryland, College Park. Tickets $6. Call 454- 4056.