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'All at Once' reconfigures music, movement

In the Boston premiere of ''All at Once," choreographer Anna Myer and the New England String Ensemble have conducted a brave experiment, in both the literal and figurative senses of the verb. They've taken the common elements of a dance performance -- movement and music -- and sent them spinning into one another's territory. The result is a performance that both reverberates with depth and gets ensnared in its own sense of adventure.

Setting musicians onstage with dancers is not new, of course. Bill T. Jones did it, as did Mark Morris, famously, with Yo-Yo Ma in ''Falling Down Stairs." But Myer has placed an entire ensemble -- 12 musicians -- in the space, along with conductor Susan Davenny Wyner, who with her long flowing ponytail and expressive arms just by herself creates eddies in the air. And here the nine dancers serve not only as cast members but also as set designers, as they reconfigure the musicians' seating arrangements before each section of the piece.

Inspired by and set to an edgy, raw score by composer Jakov Jakoulov, ''All at Once" is simultaneously a stylized and torn paean to a mostly dark night of the soul. It's full of deep plunges and arced lifts, diagonal flat-backs, and hands that bloom forth like a rose. The dancers carve the space now in unison, now in canon, now in sin curves as they thread their way through the seated musicians, who extend vertically down center stage. In the process, they thicken and thin the atmosphere, and accompany the score or become it. The dance's weakness lies in its sameness: it's a long journey through a single mood.

The other premiere on the program, ''Bach Deco Suites," is a formal walk on the iconic side. Set to solo cello suites by J.S. Bach, the dance -- for six women in snappy, sleeveless tuxedos -- also features a musician onstage, this time cellist Eliza Jacques. Her role, though, is more that of a catalyst than a partner.

The dance is stark, almost harsh; the dancers practically etch cookie-cutter outlines in the space. Movement motifs abound: The back of a wrist touches a forehead, as in a Victorian-era swoon. One dancer climbs up the stalwart back of another. Arms jut into V or diamond shapes. The piece is as compelling, and as cold, as a walk home alone on New Year's eve.

A 1998 piece, ''Blue Bird," rounded out last night's show. Set to a variety of tunes, including Bobby Vinton crooning ''Blue Velvet" and The Clippers' ''Forever," it features seven children and seven grown-ups tossing back and forth abstractions of mimed gestures. A downward spiraling hand accompanies the word ''tears"; hands crossed at the wrists signify ''bird"; ''love me" comes into focus as arms shape into Cupid's bow, and ''forever" lets an arrow fly.

The piece is quiet and sweet, but a bit cloying. Kids onstage, no matter how in sync and fabulous they are, can do that.

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