Alienation, a theme popular with modern dance choreographers of the '50s and '60s, has staged a comeback as the subject matter for Cathy Paine's "The Gathering." The premiere of this ambitious two-part work was staged at The Dance Place this weekend by Cathy Paine & Friends, a technically impressive Washington group.

The vocabulary and structure of "The Gathering" produce an unabashed spinoff of the dances of Merce Cunningham. The Cunningham compendium of isolations and disjunctions of body parts, repressed energies and discontinuous exits and entrances is suitable to this portrayal of detachment. The first part, The Gathering, builds in intensity as 11 colorfully costumed dancers progress from dancing singly into duets and trios and finally massed into a snaky line. As The Outsider in Part 2, Paine is set apart by her white costume, a stark circle of light and an inability to find a movement connection with the others. The group's repeated motifs of twirling and flashing hands mutate for her into tortured gestures of an oddly arrhythmic energy that alternates between freneticism and listlessness.

Cochoreographed and danced by Paine and Betsy Eagan, "One and One" is a "movement diary," a collection of gestures accumulated daily for several weeks. Paine's editing of this material has emphasized a humorous juxtaposition in mood. One dances frenetically as the other lies motionless on the floor or hides her head under a stool. Everyday activities are intermixed with pure dance phrases. "One and One" is a piece for the aficionado, the modern dance equivalent of the backstage musical. Its interest lies in a revelation of a choreographer's working processes in discovering, rehearsing, discarding and working out movements to be included in a dance.

The program also included Paine's 1981 "Hand-Me-Down-Dances," a light-hearted commentary on Irish-Appalachian traditions.