Incantations to devils and saints, gyrating gargoyles alternately kissing and beating themselves, musky incense and dramatically mottled lighting--with these devices Danzahoy, the Venezuelan modern dance company, evoked "Prayers" of its native culture.

In its Washington premiere at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night, the company explored the double roots of the South American psyche: the magical pagan rites contained within a Christian veneer. "Prayers" ingeniously captured the deeply mystical and unbridled place where prayer originates.

With roots in the Graham-based London School of Contemporary Dance, Danzahoy's members are technically solid and dynamically riveting. Like Graham and other early American moderns, the Venezuelans see the foundation of a native dance as the exploration of dramatic gesture and its ties in culture.

Last night's presentation was one of absolute contrasts. The adventuresome program ranged from the wild seizures of Graciela Henriquez's "Prayers" to the quiet innocence of Marcela Aguilar's "Remedios, La Bella," a character from the Nobel Prize-winning novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Artistic director Adriana Urdaneta stunningly captured the naive abandonment of "Remedios" in her ecstatic whirlings. This was in sharp contrast with Carlos Orta's torrid "A Way to Weave Through Life," which exposed the lust, competition and violence inherent in the Tangos.

Revealing its collective choreography by the members of the company, "Jungle" was perhaps the most impressionistic of the evening's offerings. Liz Urdaneta's ape-like meanderings were comically canny. In need of some editing, as was the Orta piece, "Jungle" was nevertheless a fascinating compendium of South American flora and fauna.

Danzahoy's strength lies in the finely tuned dynamics and compelling presences of its five members. An imaginative repertory and strong direction will make this one of the better "regional" companies of this hemisphere.