Washington dance aficionados spend much of their time hopping from theater to loft to avant-garde studio, hoping to discover a local choreographer (or even choreographers) who will rise above the middling-to-depressing norm and deliver up a genuine work of art. Since the unveiling of his vibrant "Medium Red" by the Contemporary Dancers of Alexandria, Daniel West--a young dance-maker with few creations under his belt--has been regarded with much interest by those searching for greatness.

Yesterday afternoon at Potomac's Winston Churchill High School, Maryland Dance Theater premiered West's latest invention, "Agitation." Never has a title been more direct or fitting. Set to excerpts from Alberto Ginastera's String Quartet No. 2--a harrowing composition vaguely reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's string-shrieker for Hitchcock's film "Psycho"--the dance falls into that ever-expanding category that this writer calls "non-specific angst," i.e., dances that present their participants in states of terror, tension, agony or sorrow, but never bother to explain why.

"Agitation" focuses on eight such souls, three men and five women, all dressed in black pants and white shirts, all seized by visually compelling tremors and machine-like gyrations. Their interaction is impersonal or hostile: women slam their legs onto men's shoulders; one dancer avoids the arm waiting to embrace her by falling repeatedly under it and onto the floor; a man approaches a woman, only to be bounced off her torso like some boomerang.

Though his overall theme may be vague and overused, West's ability to people a stage, devise a clear, provocative movement vocabulary and mesh a personal rhythm with that of the score are undeniable. Starting with an isolated image of one spotlighted woman sending out frenetic, fractured signals, the choreographer opens the dance out, introducing three women first, playing with staggered gestures, positioning the men up stage with their backs to the audience. Gradually a troubled society reveals itself, its members weaving about one another like arthritic birds, threshing machines, robots.

West's dance has not yet settled firmly into the bodies of the eight fine performers--Laura Burns, David deBenedet, Sandra Fleitell, Paul Lorenger, Alvin Mayes, Lynn Mather Tether, Mary Williford and Lisa Zimmerman--but such things take time. Along with "Agitation," these dancers, together with the rest of this sensitive company, presented a diverse program that included Doris Humphrey and Ruth Currier's "Brandenburg Concerto," Humphrey's "The Shakers," Don Redlich's "Cahoots" and Matthew Diamond's "And . . ."