That something mighty peculiar is going on is clear from the first moments of "Quartet," the opening work of last night's Washington debut by the Wendy Osserman Dance Company at the Dance Place. The strangeness built with each piece performed by the New York-based group, culminating in the weird solo, "Karakatura," in which Osserman stumbled, twisted and crouched herself into a hobbit-like character.

It is difficult, at first, to pinpoint a cause for this curious atmosphere because it is rooted in the prosaic. Osserman uses familiar modern dance techniques, but the style is so eclectic that ultimately nothing seems in place. Her choreography is like one of those Norman Rockwell puzzles in which, upon close inspection, all the details are askew.

Osserman's work contains bits of most of the major modern styles -- a little Cunningham, a little Limon, a little Pilobolus, some contact improvisation -- so it seems to have no identity of its own. It remains a mongrel, rather than achieving the status of a new breed. Finally, it all becomes a blur, too diffuse to sustain interest.

Like her style and vocabulary, Osserman's thematic content is nothing if not varied. The drama of "Quartet" grows out of the ways in which the dancers mutually support weight. A fatalistic urge is behind both "I, the Song, I Walk Here," a solo in which Andrea Kent seems pulled to the floor and made to crawl by forces over which she has no control, and "Dream Song," in which two women in silken shifts grapple and roll together inconclusively. "Going On," a commission for the North Carolina School of the Arts, is a tedious backstage study of the fragility of dancers as they recover from injuries.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:30.