The duet is probably the most intimate and risky of dance forms. It demands trust, balance and humanity. And the dancers must make their stage relationship -- be it romantic, antagonistic, disinterested or droll -- as focused and compelling as possible.

Helen Rea and Don Zuckerman, two of Washington's finest teachers and performers, have researched the duet form in depth. The result of their labors is Duets, Etc., a dance-repertory company comprised of themselves and occasional guest artists. This weekend the ensemble will appear at the Washington Project for the Arts in two different settings. Friday, they'll be dancing "in the street" as part of the First Annual WPA Art Party festivities. Saturday and Sunday, they'll move indoors to present a program featuring works by an eclectic collection of local and New York-based choreographers.

The four duets couldn't be more varied. Sally Nash's "Portrait," created specially for Rea and Zuckerman, gives us two characters playing out the last strains of a fading love affair. As Emmylou Harris croons sad country ballads, we blink in confusion, for the man is wearing a purple gown and the woman a suit and tie. The role reversals apply to their movements and situations too; everything's cliched, but topsy-turvy as well.

Cathy Paine's "Duet" places two dancers in a rehearsal room, lets them fiddle with a radio and has them experiment with one unison routine and several different kinds of music (whatever they can find on the radio at that moment). "Dashes and Bolts," Hannah Kahn's magnificently boisterous romp to Mozart, sets each dancer off on his/her own course, and then brings them together in a breezy, swoony pas de deux. Most affecting is Marta Renzi's "Working Variations," a piece carved from the sighs, habits and gestures of a long-term loving/working partnership.

Duets are not all that Duets, Etc. do. The program will also include Carol Boggs Scott's "Sun, Air, Earth" (featuring the choreographer as guest performer), and Liz Lerman's "Journey," a gripping solo to be performed by Zuckerman. DUETS, ETC. -- This Friday, as part of the WPA Art Party. Call 347-8304. Saturday and Sunday at 8, WPA Theater, 400 Seventh Street N.W. Tickets $6, $5 for students and senior citizens. Call 347-8304.