In times of crisis, art can prove a potent stimulus to action, an educational force, a cathartic agent or an emotional salve. This weekend's trio of benefit dance performances for the local AIDS empowerment organization LifeLink fell most assuredly into the latter two categories. Titled "A New Dance for Life," the long, heartfelt program at the Marvin Center Theatre featured a wide-ranging roster of area dancers performing the work of nine choreographers, two of whom -- Choo-San Goh and David Holmes Jr. -- have lost their lives to AIDS.

It was Holmes who staged the first Dance for Life concert in July 1989, and so it was fitting that Sunday evening's performance should begin with his "Dawn of the Young Spirit," whose first sectionpremiered on that earlier program. Since that time, choreographers Paul Gordon Emerson and Linda Gottfried have fleshed out the outlines Holmes left for the second and final sections of this rather unadventurous but tender group piece set to Matt Jones's gentle synthesized musical ruminations.

Goh, the prodigiously gifted choreographer whose contributions to the repertoire and company style of the Washington Ballet helped immeasurably in putting the troupe on the artistic map, was represented by the pas de deux from his "Momentum," a detailed, sinuous encounter set to Prokofiev, danced brilliantly by company members Francoise Thouveny and Christopher Doyle.

Choreographer Adrain Bolton and his company sizzled and gyrated through "Blue Love (A Medley)," one of his typically histrionic dances. As the song stylings of Natalie Cole, LaBelle and especially that powerhouse wailer Jennifer Holliday filled the theater, the seven women and two men stretched and moved in wild bouts of generic agony and release.

On the opposite end of the spectrum came "Crimson Ramblers," Deborah Riley and Diane Frank's cool and quirky little ode to travel. Though Riley and Mary Beth Flournoy rendered the amusing comings and goings of a Mutt-and-Jeff-style pair of explorers to perfection, a fouled-up sound system muddled Mike Vargas's wacky, highly verbal score.

Though they shared an intensity and loftiness of purpose -- and extremely committed casts -- both Keith Lee's "Subliminal Messages" and Emerson's "Never Far" offered precious little in the way of memorable, or even coherent, choreography. Yet somehow, at benefits such as this one, it is the intention as much as the product that matters.