There was a relaxed unpretentiousness in Josephine Nicholson's concert over the weekend at Joy of Motion, a refreshing sense of gathering together not to impress but to celebrate good music and good friends.

Nicholson is a longtime local teacher and choreographer who only rarely performs--and more's the pity, as the willowy dancer can be sharp as an arrow or yielding as a blade of grass. Saturday night, she was joined by husband-and-wife musicians Sid and Carol Dunn, saxophonist Tim Brown and violinist Lisa Buchsbaum.

There has been scant recognition by the local dance community of Duke Ellington's centennial--a startling oversight given the native son's contributions to both social and concert dance music. Thus Nicholson's inclusion of two Ellington works was especially rewarding. Her "Come Sunday," to Ellington's haunting liturgical composition of the same name, featured three dancers with the Erika Thimey Dance and Theater Company, the group that honors the legendary Washington choreographer now in her late eighties. Stephen Johnson, Sylvia Soumah and Sharon Werth echoed the slow building of the score with images of strength and solidity and a nod to Alvin Ailey's "Revelations" as the dancers sank to the floor with knees apart and arms outstretched.

Brown's smoky sax joined Sid Dunn's insouciant guitar in a heartfelt version of Ellington's "Solitude," and Dunn joined his wife, who played flute, for spirited tunes by Francisco Tarrega and Jacques Ibert. Nicholson sketched in movement the narrative thread of Buchsbaum's "Our Times," a mix of expressionistic short stories and playful violin. Nicholson is all lines and planes, and you find you're riveted to the sweep of her reedlike arms. She's a hard act to follow, a fact made clear in "Continuum," a duet for her and Carol Dunn, in which Dunn was frequently playing catch-up.

The whole group came together in "My Romance," an upbeat finale that set Nicholson and the light-footed Johnson skimming the stage to the Rodgers and Hart tune played with a great sense of fun by Brown, Buchsbaum and the Dunns.

CAPTION: Josephine Nicholson's soulful recital included two pieces set to Duke Ellington tunes.