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A world of wonder from Les Ballets

What is it about Aszure Barton's "Les Chambres des Jacques" (2006) -- performed last night by the impeccable Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal -- that brings a catch to my throat and a quickening to my brain?

The 40-minute piece, set to music by composers ranging from Antonio Vivaldi to the Cracow Klezmer Band, is that rare accomplishment in the world of contemporary dance: It posits an entire world -- a dense, rapidly shifting environment -- onstage in which each player is an individual and yet all are united by a common language that's at once foreign to your ears and utterly understandable.

Barton's alarmingly original voice resounds with a thwack. In squares of light, the 12 dancers -- the women in corsets and slips, the men in street clothes -- globetrot through a confluence of styles: American breakdancing begets Irish stepdancing begets contortions that read as foibles interrupting a pure, classical line. Barton can break the rules of ballet because she knows them so well.

Hers is a choreography of nuance: Heads peck like chicken beaks, hands rake the air like claws, lusty arcs hinge to the floor. Lips smack and teeth bite, fingers snap and grab at the dancers' own crotches. These bodies contort and flail as they attempt to converse with one another. Near-kisses become near-misses in yearnings for human connection. There's an undercurrent of violence and ghoulishness in this strange land but also an undercurrent of love. Indeed, when the angles resolve into a communal circle reminiscent of a country dance, humanism merges with classicism with a satisfying thump.

The program also features the Boston premiere of Brazilian choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras's "Mapa" (2005), also a full-company work, set to music by Marco Antonio Pena Araujo and played by the Uakti band. The piece, a tribute to Araujo (his initials spell out the title), also represents Pederneiras's own "map": his journey from street dancer to professional performer.

The dancers' steps--a blend of xaxado, samba, capoeira and modern dance--play against the woodwinds and drums of the musicians like the wind against a cliff. The piece is obsessed with the theme of replacements -- one partner replaces another, a trio replaces a duet, a pelvic thrust replaces a parallel-passe spin, an orange leotard replaces loose checked pants. There's a sense of minimalist thrumming to this trip, as the 12 dancers dissolve and regroup in myriad permutations.

The dance is buoyant and full of fun. But its seemingly limitless meanderings become a bit tiresome by the work's close.