LIZ LERMAN is one artist who does not sit and contemplate her navel. She is constantly looking beyond herself, growing curious, angry or concerned, and then returning to the studio to work out her responses in choreographic terms. Over the past decade, she has created dances about the defense budget, environmental ills, Edward Hopper, the arms race and, currently, Russia.

"Russia: The Transparent Apple and the Silver Saucer," which had its premiere Thursday night, is one of her most ambitious projects yet. This evening-length work -- an amalgam of movement, words, period and original music, and visual projections -- does not profess to examine the entire history of the Soviet Union, nor to make a comprehensive political or social statement. It's Lerman's highly personal, impressionistic attempt to come to terms with that intriguing and perplexing country.

Performed by 19 members of the Dance Exchange Performance Company and the Dancers of the Third Age, the piece employs a wealth of disparate materials: Catherine the Great's love letters, codes of law from the Middle Ages, absurdist literature from the '20s, fairy tales, a speech by Nikita Khrushchev and music by Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and other giants.

No matter how one feels about the subject matter, Lerman is bound to make one think, react, and -- most of all -- feel.

RUSSIA: THE TRANSPARENT APPLE AND THE SILVER SAUCER -- Friday at 8 p.m. at Sidwell Friends Auditorium, 3825 Wisconsin Avenue. Tickets $8, $6.50 for students and seniors. Call 229-8298.