The diner: It's a place to order a cup of coffee, plunk down a bill and get change. Saturday evening's "Transformational Diner" experience at Dance Place held expectations of change, but, as any dime store psychologist will tell you, change takes work.

The diner's artistic directors, Peter DiMuro and Celeste Miller, both resident artists with the Takoma Park-based Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, fabricated their vision of what a diner could aspire to, beyond meatloaf and slices of pie.

In a small anteroom at the side of the theater, Argentine-born Normando Ismay's tropically vibrant paintings and masks provided the first indication that Formica counters and chipped china would have no place in a diner created by performing artists who dance and tell stories. With cups of mate{acute}, the fragrant South American tea, proffered to the audience, Miller and DiMuro's overscripted introduction hinted at unfulfilled promise in Ismay's fictional Cafe Bizzozo.

The choreographic menu meandered from the dead serious to the ha-ha funny, from the sublime to the merely mundane, from the captivating to the boring. There were small dishes served up with grace and intelligence and heartier ones with a bland aftertaste.

Solo performer and choreographer Miller's knack for effectively blending words and movement resembles the wry inquiry of Lerman, her artistic mentor. But Miller amplifies her monologue-driven choreography with idiosyncratic gestures attuned to her performing persona. There's a sensory awareness in her approach to articulating movement that infuses her work with scent, with unseen auras, with silent rhythms and even with a solidifying touch.

Miller's "Cranky Angel" retells the biblical tale of Jacob's battle with the angel, with a twist. Through both words and an elaborately crafted language of hand and arm gestures, body tremors, undulations and sudden staccato kicks, Miller magnifies the transformative potential of a new viewpoint on a trusted, perhaps rusty subject. When a reworking of "Cranky Angel," subtitled "Take Two," sets these same personally inspired gestures on a company of nine, the result clarifies why Miller remains one of Washington's most quietly compelling performing artists: Those dancers can do the steps, and Miller imbues them with spiritual meaning.

Selections from DiMuro's "Pageant, Protest and Parade" evolved from personal narratives culled from members of the gay, bisexual and transgender community. At this point, still sketchy and disjointed, the piece needs further time to simmer. Miller's "When Small Birds" recalled the personal devastation of 9/11 through narrative and group choreography, but the evening's other fine morsel was the brief but deeply evocative "When Small Birds: Another Story." This duet, performed by Elizabeth Johnson and Miller's 8-year-old daughter, Alexandra McColl, succinctly expresses the inextricable bond and inevitable separation that comes between parent and child. Fleeting but heartfelt, the work unhindered by words demonstrated the transcendent power of dance.

Elizabeth Johnson in "Pageant, Protest and Parade," part of "Transformational Diner."