Improvisation is a sticky business, by turns unpredictable, meandering, risky or dull. It all depends upon who is engaged in this free-flowing act, and on just how stringent the boundaries are. In the hands -- not to mention the rest of their bodies -- of Improvisations Unlimited, the 10-member dance company that performed yesterday afternoon at the University of Maryland, improvisation is as disciplined an art form as you've encountered: fast-paced, packed with witty configurations, jokes galore and clear-cut openings and resolutions. Together with a trio of equally inventive musicians, they respond to Director Meriam Rosen's verbal cues with an uncanny alertness, exhibiting a communal creativity that rarely flags.

Improvisation, however, is only one part of this youthful and unpretentious ensemble's repertoire. They do just as well in more conventional theatrical situations, interpreting other artists' work with great conviction and simplicity. This latter quality is something one rarely sees; these dancers do not strain or ornament movement, but let the choreographer's intentions shine right through.

Jeff Duncan's new "Ceremonies," a hypnotic dance in six parts, received a sensitive and pointed performance by John Cerniglia, Bradley Ehrlich and Richard Lepore. Accompanied by improvised musings on an assortment of percussion instruments, the three men -- dressed in pants and short tunics of gray, red and black -- began herd-fashion, running after one another in a circular pattern. As the piece unfolded, they engaged in a series of vaguely Eastern rituals: arms scooping through space, one man manipulating a large cymbal, all three assuming various stances and emotional states and then switching roles. The piece closed with a cascade of running, crawling, rolling and falling movements. Duncan's eye for the subtlest yet most telling gestures and exchanges made the notion of "dance as ritual" seem fresh again.

The program concluded with Wendy Woodson's deft "Split Seconds" and "Where Now, When Now?" a delightfully unhinged romp by Don Redlich.