"Orphan" is probably the most appropriate term for a dancer who has lost his or her mentor. When a dance company loses its artistic director, it isn't merely a matter of appointing a successor. The choreographic process, as well as the teaching and refining that accompany it, develops over a period of years through direct, physical example.

"I taught everybody how to dance," remarked the late George Balanchine. "It was like teaching people how to cook, how to grow the food, how to eat it."

Balanchine's New York City Ballet has only begun to grapple with the depth of of its loss, but there are several modern dance companies that have come through the mourning period intact. One of them, the Joyce Trisler Danscompany, has managed not only to remain afloat -- Trisler died suddenly four years ago at age 45 -- but to expand its repertoire and accommodate a flock of new members. Under the direction of Milton Myers, formerly a dancer with Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater, the choreographer's vibrant, flexible style hasn't been lost.

Trisler, a walking compendium of American modern-dance trends, began her career in Los Angeles with the multi-racial, ethnically oriented Lester Horton Dance Theater, and later went on to perform with both Doris Humphrey's company at Juilliard and the Ailey troupe. As a choreographer, she made dances not only for the concert stage, but also for industrial shows, musicals, opera productions. Out of this wide range of experience came a stream of very different dances -- abstract ballets, satires of fairy tales, celebrations of modern-dance history -- bound only by their structural integrity, clarity and passion.

The Danscompany will appear this weekend at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater and its performances will include two Trisler works: the early "Journey," to a score by Charles Ives, and "Dance for Six," a piece that matches Vivaldi and pure movement to perfection. Director Myers' "Ragtime" and "Four Etudes," both to music by Stravinsky, and Gray Veredon's "Koan" complete the program. JOYCE TRISLER DANSCOMPANY -- This Friday and Saturday at 7:30 at the Terrace Theater. All tickets $11.50; students, seniors and handicapped patrons should contact the Friends of the Kennedy Center at 254-3774 for information on reduced-price tickets.