The next time you hear people lamenting the fact that there are so few local dance companies about which to get excited, tell them to check out Maryland Dance Theater. It might mean a drive to Rockville, Hyattsville or the group's home base at the University of Maryland in College Park -- but the trip is worth the extra mileage.

MDT's strong suits are its utter professionalism and polish. Under the artistic direction of Larry and Anne Warren, the troupe has mastered a host of very different dances by both area and far-flung choreographers. The 11 dancers possess not only the requisite technique, but a certain confidence and personal style that infuse each work with an appropriately overt or subtle dramatic shading. Add to these the first-rate costume and lighting design, and all that seems lacking is live rather than taped music, and a touch more risk taking in the choice of dances.

The matter of risk taking became clear Saturday night during MDT's performance before a large and enthusiastic audience at Tawes Theatre. Having previously seen all four works on the program, I wasn't "discovering" them, but musing over their collective strengths -- structural and musical clarity; and weaknesses -- a decided lack of daring or experimentation. Taken separately, Anne Warren's lush and lyrical "Simple Symphony," Daniel West's chicly neurotic "Agitation," Mark Taylor's feisty spoof "From the Archives: Social Dances, Vol. XXI (The Tango)" and Larry Warren's kinky little playlet "The Party Game" hold up nicely, introducing us to marvelous music by Britten, Ginastera, Victor Herbert and others, serving up intricate rhythms and moments of mirth.

Yet somehow it's not enough. "Agitation," for instance, could be slightly more specific in its neurosis, and a trifle less rooted to the beat; "The Party Game" could go further in its characterizations, its dynamics, its kinkiness. At this stage in its development, MDT should make every effort to stretch its boundaries, ruffle its audience's feathers a bit, and enhance its reputation even further.