Finding a suitable launching pad for new work is a perennial, often frustrating quest for area dance makers, especially given the shrinkage in available local venues over the past decade. Hence the annual Choreographers' Showcase under the auspices of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission performs an extremely valuable service, both for the dance community and its public.

This year's edition, last night at the Publick Playhouse, presented works by six choreographers, chosen from a field of 32 last fall by judges Beverly Blossom, Doris Rudko and Clay Taliaferro. Oddly and disconcertingly, all the selected entries but one seemed untouched by choreographic developments of the past 30 years -- is this a reflection of area conservatism, local pedagogy, or the judges' taste? Hard to say.

The exception was John Dixon's "Before Gone," one of two solos that gave the evening its moments of boldest impact, as much or more for their electric performance quality as for choreographic distinction. The quirky, elliptical "Before Gone" was absolutely precise and unhackneyed in its shaping, and effectively suspenseful. Studded with odd, striking images -- Dixon suddenly canting backward and plucking at his heart as if it were a lute, for example -- the piece, to music by George Crumb, also had something of the cutthroat, drop-dead quality of William Forsythe's ballets. Dixon's crisp, beautifully modulated performance added much to its voltage.

The other outstanding solo was Lisa Yount's "At a Loss," to an evocative jazz score by Bryan McCune. Choreographically, it was a moody, introspective match for the bluesy fluctuations of the music, running a gamut from erotic longing to anxious dejection. But its power lay primarily in Yount's highly charged, technically keen and alluring dancing. It's rare to see sensuality on stage as free from stereotype or strain as Yount succeeded in making it.

The other pieces exemplified various genres without notably extending them. Anne Bassen's "Immigrant Soul," persuasively danced by herself and Arden Sweet, was a touching mother-daughter minidrama, with Bassen literally trying to fill the Old-World shoes of her immigrant parent. Claudia Brand's "Intersections," neatly danced by herself, Yount and Timothy Willot, was an agreeable sculptural abstraction. Alvin Mayes's rather mawkish "Souvenir" -- an elegy for a lost companion -- benefited from the somber gravity of Mayes's performance. "Subliminal Messages (High Self Esteem)" by Keith Lee, however, was too rambling and amorphous to sustain interest in its elusive allegory.