A recital by Ravi Shankar, master of the sitar, is an intimate ritualistic experience, even when the venue is the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium, and the crowd is at capacity. First, a pair of incense sticks are lit on the stage, their woody scent allowed to waft lazily into the audience. A pair of tamboura players carrying their stringed instruments enter, soon followed by Alla Rakha, the tabla virtuoso, who fine-tunes his drums with a small metal mallet. Shankar at last takes his place across from Rakha, first checking his sitar's intonation, then that of the two tambouras, whose hypnotic drones will underpin all the ragas performed. The four musicians, sitting cross-legged on elegant carpets, are now prepared to play -- perhaps mesmerize -- the eager onlookers with music that is constantly evolving, emotionally gratifying and spiritually uplifting.

The riches of raga, like other brands of spontaneous art, are best appreciated live. Saturday night Shankar, along with his empathetic accompanist Rakha, pulled the expectant audience into their midst, creating a communal atmosphere rare in classical music. They needed only the gentlest of tugs actually, for raga is very much music of the affections. In the course of three extended pieces, the musicians explicitly conveyed feelings of sadness, joy, devotion and humor.

Opening with a raga commemorating the rainy season, Shankar plucked a series of eerie single-string bent notes, an invocation suggesting a group of disjointed, wailing human voices. When Rakha finally joined in, the mood became serene, the textures a bit more complex, but nonetheless transparent.

Rakha, who has a Yoda-like presence about him, took a brief tabla solo, first in response to phrases articulated by Shankar, then in answer to his own sung patterns. Rakha's and Shankar's most brilliant playing occurred in the closing raga, which was much freer than the other works. Elastic rhythms on the tablas met dazzlingly fleet sitar melodies, and built such a head of steam that the audience was literally dragged to its feet in unison. -- Charles McCardell Diane Floyd

Diane Floyd, who appeared with her Saturday Company at the Dance Place this past weekend, has a well-earned reputation as one of Washington's fine modern dancers. As she again demonstrated throughout Saturday night's program, her way of moving is appealingly suave, pliant and bold. Her technique is strong, her phrasing clear.

But being an effective choreographer -- crafting meaningful, expressive dance works -- is a different matter altogether from good dancing. Talent in one area doesn't necessarily carry over to the other. In Floyd's case, it's not easy to understand what impels her to pursue an activity for which, in the past five years, she's shown so little aptitude.

A new solo work, "Sanctum," made the point again. There were sporadic puffs of fog, shifts of lighting, accompanying slides by Janice Gorton on the level of sidewalk art, and live flute, synthesizer and vocal music by Joseph Kennedy Jr. that sounded appropriate to a video arcade. Against this background, Floyd moved and gesticulated in a rambling, enigmatic fashion.

No less befuddling was "Triptych," a three-part, 45-minute opus that had its premiere at the YWCA in 1983. To start with, why perform a piece originally billed as an important collaboration (with Gorton) in a space unable to accommodate the collaborator's work (sheer white panels were substituted for Gorton's painted cloths)? Why add words by T.S. Eliot to a dance purportedly inspired by the writings of Sylvia Plath? Why print Plath poems in the program different from those used in the dance? And why introduce, in the last section, an obviously untrained "chorus" of adults and children?

"Triptych," which used Floyd and her five dancers, plus a pastiche of fragmented poetry readings, a tape score by Dan Gibson and music by Debussy, answered neither these riddles nor others posed by the work. Melodramatic posturings only compounded the obscurity, and there was nothing in the erratic course of movement to keep the dance going or give it shape. -- Alan M. Kriegsman Washington Dance Directions

Program 3 of Washington Dance Directions had its premiere Saturday night at the Marvin Theater. The contrast among groups on the roster was theatrically wise. Jan Taylor's company addressed modern dance concerns, David Appel's proceeded from postmodern principles and Colette Yglesias' strove for whimsey.

Appel's collaboration with musician Michael Willis, "Fast But Not Too Fast," began with Willis stepping into a spotlit area of the stage to pick up a bass fiddle from the floor. In front and to the side of Willis, Appel's prone body became visible. He was face down but there was no one to pick him up, so he slowly pushed himself toward stage center. Willis began to play. His bowing and Apple's sliding motion were congruous: both were deliberate, serious actions of equivalent amplitude, effort and pace.

The dance developed, and so did the music. Appel's first added motion was a turning over on the floor. He then danced in a sitting position, then kneeling, eventually standing. Throughout, the turn was reiterated as a key theme. Often it seemed to be done for its own sake, but at times Appel used it to face another direction. Twice, at least, the new direction afforded him the chance to take long looks. Once he gazed at the musician; once out at the audience, and then lowered his head.

Near the end of "Fast But Not Too Fast," things did become hectic. Willis' trails of sonorities had evolved into jazzy phrases and Appel countered with rushed, loose movement that he crystallized into barefoot tap-dancing. The humor of such a response, with its concessions to motion-sound mimicry, like the underlying seriousness of the entire work, stemmed from an intimacy of music and dance that was anything but mechanical.

In another Appel piece, "Swing Shift," the concern again was with movement developing into dance. As the choreographer and two women performed to offstage music by Al Green, he had chances to show his fine elasticity. Halfway through, though, the choreography ceased to grow. One was left with a plethora of movement and an abrupt, arbitrary, overdue ending.

Jan Taylor began "Mojique" with a vigorous solo for herself. To grating music by Jon Hassell, she explored angry motion, not as a tantrum, but in a structured way. Two men, stalwart Alvin Mayes and agile Eric Bobrow, joined her for an acrobatic adagio (partly choreographed by Mayes) that, at first, suggested vivid images: spiders in copulation, hunters bearing prey, ship prows at launching. Suddenly, though, imagery ceased and routine held sway.

Taylor's "What the Hand Dare Seize the Fire?," which she and Bobrow danced to Chopin music, satirizes fate-and-passion duets. Much tighter than at its recent premiere was Colette Yglesias' "Turn Left at Twilight." The improved pacing showed more clearly the work's repetitiveness and sentimentality.This program, as well as the two others, will be repeated this week. -- George Jackson