As Shapiro & Smith tell it in their choreography, being a couple means being imprisoned, smothered, browbeaten and dominated by turns. Children? Forget it, they will finish off any chance left for the relationship.

Curiously, though, despite these dire sentiments, the "Couple Dances" presented at the Dance Place this weekend by the New York-based Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith did not leave an impression of depressing late-'80s angst. It was not only their wit that undercut the viciousness. There were also distractions of a purely dance interest: odd and exceedingly clever sculptural conceits, as well as Shapiro and Smith's extraordinary skills as dancers.

Both performers possess a radiant technique that emphasizes dynamic variation and articulation, a legacy from their years with the Murray Louis Dance Company. They spring from shape to shape, seemingly without transition, so that each movement registers as though etched in space. The movement is so rich in detail that close attention is demanded to take it all in.

The theme of "Two" -- a couple joined inextricably for better and worse -- is also the subject of the other two works. In "A Bedtime Story," there is clever play at bouncing on and off a bed, propelled by various body parts. But there is also envy, selfishness and infanticide. "George & Betty's House" is a scathing look at the degradation underlying conventional domesticity. A hunchbacked, bespectacled Smith dusts as though her life depended on it; an impotent Shapiro bullies her and sticks his head in a child-size oven. They are both terrorized and manipulated by an adult-size child (John Goodwin), who bears no small resemblance to Elton John.