The Hubbard Street Dance Company began 13 years ago with four women entertaining senior citizens in community lunchrooms.

Now there are 16 dancers with a repertoire of 36 pieces performing in huge, majestic spaces such as the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.

And next, the company will be learning three early works by dance doyenne Twyla Tharp, taught by the master choreographer herself.

"It's an incredible stamp of approval for us," says artistic director Lou Conte of becoming the repository of Tharp's works. "She thinks we will continue to do good work. This is a major step for this company."

The early vocabulary of the Hubbard Street Dance Company was primarily ballet-based Broadway musical pieces. But a few years back, it invited contemporary choreographers Lynne Taylor-Corbet, Richard Levi, Margo Sappington and Daniel Ezralow to contribute. One of the more recent pieces, which the company premiered at the Chicago Lyric Opera House this spring and will be performing here this week, is Ezralow's "Read My Hips" -- "an abstract piece," Conte explains. "Very contemporary. For us, a different kind of piece. And, as are most of our pieces, it's very high energy. I hate to the word 'now,' but that's what it is."

Another work the company is presenting this week is "Shakti," an Asian-influenced dance set to Ravi Shankar and John McLaughlin's score and choreographed by Hubbard Street dancer Ron de Jesus. "It's sort of East meets West," says Conte. "The style of the movement is mock Indian or impressionistic Indian. It's a showy piece ... lots of turns and lots of jumps."

Quite a leap from the afternoon cafeteria circuit.

The Hubbard Street Dance Company will perform Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Tickets are $18 to $28.50 and are available at the Kennedy Center box office or by calling Instant Charge at 467-4600.