The clump of trees at the north side of the Washington Monument served as a most fortuitous setting for yesterday evening's Washington premiere of Kei Takei's "Light, Part 23 (Pilgrimage)."

The sunset performance kicked off Dance Place's month-long "Japan America Dance Project," which opens with a two-week residency by Takei and her company, Moving Earth. This year is the Japanese-born Takei's 20th in the United States, where she has concentrated on the creation of an epic choreographic cycle, called simply "Light."

This newest section of "Light" shows Takei developing a more full-bodied approach as the performers cover territory in exuberant stamping and ecstatic skips. There are even splashes of color on Takei's signature white costumes. Yet "Pilgrimage" is recognizable as "Light" in its inexorable repetitions, its use of chanting and natural objects (here, tree branches) and its suggestion of human struggle and persistence.

Even with its quotations from other sections of "Light," "Pilgrimage" finds Takei exploring another level of existence in its concern with human achievement rather than mere survival. While other sections of "Light" have stressed humanity's place in the natural order, this passage depicts mankind as raised above the animal world by spiritual aspirations. In its ritualistic repetitions, there is still the suggestion of the simplicity and profundity of children at play, but at the same time, "Pilgrimage" charts adult passions.

Takei's Washington performances will form a retrospective of the "Light" cycle. The Monument program will be repeated there today and next Thursday and Friday. Other sections of "Light" (including Part 1, which dates from 1969) will be performed this weekend and next at the Dance Place. Part 12 will be performed at Washington Harbour on Oct. 8.