IN RECENT YEARS Mount Vernon College's performing arts department has become one of this area's most imaginative presenters of dance. This weekend's performances by the modern-dance duo of Thompson and Trammell should get this season off to a rousing start in the beautiful space of the Hand Chapel.

Faculty members of James Madison University, Cynthia Thompson and Kate Trammell have spent the last five years choreographing -- together and individually -- a variety of dances. Watch the pair carrying on as slightly daffy nuns in their "Croaky Baroke," or Trammell creating a visual counterpart to Screamin' Jay Hawkins' wild, bluesy "Put a Spell on You," and you understand why they win awards.

In addition to these two brief, compelling works, Thompson and Trammell will present a new collaboration entitled "Child's Play," Thompson's "All Dressed Up and Other Exposures" to a James Brown medley, and dances by two other contemporary choreographers. "Glass Houses," by University of Maryland professor Alvin Mayes, is a twisting, skulking vision of paranoia set to the music of Philip Glass; it suits these dramatically inclined dancers very nicely.

Remy Charlip's "Alone Some and Twosome -- An Airmail Dance" has a much friendlier, improvised feel, which makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that the choreography was actually sent through the mail by means of drawings and words, and then transferred from paper to stage by its performers. THOMPSON AND TRAMMELL --

Appearing Friday and Saturday at 8:30 at the Hand Chapel, 2100 Foxhall Rd. NW. Tickets $9 and $6. 331-3467.