Dancer-choreographer Cynthia Thompson is tall and fair. Her partner, Kate Trammell, is short and dark. Thompson's face is an open book; Trammell exudes a more secretive air. These physical differences work to great advantage when the two women share the stage; even in the more abstract dances they performed last night at Mount Vernon College, they managed to conjure up contrasting characters who play off each other in funny or affecting ways.

What Thompson and Trammell have in common -- besides their faculty positions at James Madison University -- is an ability to move well in a variety of styles, to make each gesture count, to imbue a pause with as much significance as a tricky step. And they're also quite accomplished when it comes to creating dances and choosing additional repertory. Their concert last night consisted of one collaborative effort, a solo contribution by each and three works by other contemporary choreographers (as well as a lovely musical interlude by guitarist Jonathan Romeo).

The program opened with the duo's daffy "croaky baroke," which features a pair of nuns wielding croquet mallets, and a hooded monk (Romeo) playing a mean electric guitar. The nuns gambol and glide about, using the mallets as weapons, chairs, hobby horses and brooms. In the climax of the piece, the women approach the monk and each solemnly removes a ball from his voluminous sleeves.

Thompson's "All Dressed Up and Other Exposures," a three-part solo set to three of James Brown's funkiest hits, begins with furiously paced dance crammed with gestures, '60s dance steps, facial contortions and show biz sashays and flourishes. As the piece unfolds -- and diminishes in effectiveness -- it turns into a goofy striptease and a wry commentary on sexual dependency.

Trammell's solo "Stolen Goods" was the briefest and certainly the most bizarre work of the program. Set to the bluesy wailing of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, the dance opens with Trammell creeping along a side wall and then bounding across center stage like a werewolf. Dressed in a white union suit, shiny red robe and sneakers, this creature alternately cringes and thrusts out her finger, shudders and stares. The effect is both creepy and hilarious.

The duo brought a haunting and highly dramatic aura to Alvin Mayes' "Glass Houses," a movement essay on anxiety and need set to Philip Glass' plaintive "Fac ades." Linda Caldwell's "Child's Play" proved a less rewarding vehicle, in large part because the alternately violent and playful games depicted didn't add up to much of a dance or a behavioral study.

Choreographer Remey Charlip's "Alone Some and Twosome -- An Airmail Dance" let the dancers show their comic flair to the fullest. The droll, ultrastylized dance featured Trammell as a mustachioed toreador and Thompson as his sultry lady love. Packed with exaggerated turns and hitch kicks, dips and swoons, dropped handkerchiefs and smoldering glances, this was a parody of great clarity and wit. Kudos to Pat Van Horn for her amazingly apt costumes for this and other dances.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:30