In the art of dance, movement is the medium, but sometimes it's also the message. In the excellent program of dances Saturday night at The Dance Place, choreographed by the New York team of Diane Frank and Deborah Riley, we had a fine illustration of how movement can exist "for its own sake," and yet be crammed with expressive form, vitality and character.

The point is that "abstract" movements such as Frank and Riley devise are abstracted from something. They are, so to speak, siphoned off from concrete experiences of the dynamics of life. If we are unable to name the feelings, images or conceptions expressed, that is because they are "untranslatable"; their only adequate statement is through the dance, which says it all.

Frank and Riley extend the Cunningham tradition in a vein of their own. Their dances have a clear, cool, bracingly geometric look that often suggests the smiling robustness of Calder's art. There's a near-classical linearity to the designs, and a strong emphasis on the permutational possibilities of partnering.

The evening began with a solo and trio excerpted from "Let Her," to a bristling tape score by Linda Fisher. Riley's superbly articulated solo meshed surgical precision of contour and accent with an easy flow of movement that looked deceptively unpremeditated. The trio, expertly danced by Riley, Frank and Ione Beauchamp, rang constantly surprising changes on triangular alignments.

The new "China Flats" was the choreographic outcome of a Frank-Riley workshop at Dance Place over the past fortnight, based on material from "Let Her," and set to a jazzy sax, flute and synthesizer score by Bill Obrecht. The 14 workshop dancers breezed handsomely through the work's intricacies, which alternated between rapid spatial flux and sustained sculptural formations.

The final work, "Branch," commissioned last year by Washington's Perlo/Bloom & Company, was performed by five members of that group, including Carla Perlo, director of Dance Place. Having lived with the piece and toured with it for a year, the dancers attack it now with much heightened intensity and rapport. The entire evening, in fact, was a testimonial to the salutary effects Riley and Frank have had on Washington dance over the five years they've been visitors to -- and collaborators with -- Dance Place. They've enriched their own repertory and Washington's in the bargain, and they've demanded and received from their Washington charges an unusually high standard of performance.

The event was the start of the 1985-'86 season for Dance Place, and it added a new element to the series -- a postperformance discussion period with the choreographers that proved both engrossing and enlightening.