A very different kind of dance contest was held Saturday night at the Prince George's Publick Playhouse, one devoted not to judging dancers' techniques, but to encouraging and rewarding choreographers. Presented by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Prince George's County Arts Division, the Third Annual Choreographer's Showcase featured the works of seven area modern-dance choreographers who had already made the cut from an initial field of 38.

Although the showcase was open to "choreographers without regard to degree of experience," the top prize of $600 was awarded to the most established of the lot, Meriam Rosen, director of Improvisations Unlimited and a faculty member at the University of Maryland. Rosen's "Towers," set to an original score by Martin Mangold and played live by Mangold and Isiah Johnson, depicted four neurotic souls in business clothes trying to cope with the rat race while literally playing a game of musical chairs.

The second prize of $350 was awarded to Cynthia Thompson and Kate Trammell, both faculty members at James Madison University, for their fresh and genuinely funny "Croaky Baroke." Thompson and Trammell, dressed as nuns armed with croquet mallets and harboring a less than sisterly love for each other, tormented their musician (Jonathan Romeo, in monk's garb and playing his own score on electric guitar) and danced with a frantic calm, beatific smiles on their faces all the while.

Ron Paul's "Tether," to an original score by Jeff Zeldman, won the third prize of $250. Danced by Paul and Dianne Hunt, "Tether" overstated neither its prop -- a red, stretchy band that bound the dancers together -- nor its gimmick -- a woman supporting a man during much of the piece -- but quietly and inventively explored the movement possibilities of both.

A special honorable-mention award was given to Richard L. Dunston of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers for his jazzy, breezy solo "Dream Hunter," which displayed his impulsive, energetic dancing. Other works presented were Maria Esther Castello's solo "Tango," Elly Porter's mournful "Woven Threads" and Alvin Mayes' duet "Glass Houses."

Frances Smith Cohen and Carolyn M. Tate were the artistic directors and guiding lights of the program. The judges were Pauline Koner, Elvi Moore, Jack Moore, Virginia Freeman Weil and Alcine Wiltz.