BENJAMIN LEVY GREW UP before "The O.C.," in that once white-hot California Zip code 90210. Today he is finding himself, if not quite a celebrity, at least a certified up-and-comer. Levy has been lauded for a "sense of theater [that] sets him apart from the herd." Critics from both The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle offered up effusive praise for his debut performances, and earlier this year Dance Magazine named him one of the "Top 25 to Watch" in 2004.

That's really something considering Levy is just 23.

"This has all come, surprisingly, very quickly," he acknowledged last week between rehearsals for his New York debut at the prestigious Joyce SoHo studio and theater. Saturday he brings his eponymous troupe, LEVYdance, back to Dance Place with two new works and, after a nearly sold-out run earlier this year, an expectant audience. But even forming a company -- LEVYdance is chamber-size, with just five members -- wasn't something this young artist had considered. "For me, having a company was so not a reality," he says with a California cadence. "I thought it would maybe be a reality in 10 or 20 years."

With a boost from a fledgling arts manager Levy met a few summers back at the American Dance Festival in North Carolina, the company became a reality in 2002. "We just started talking about it, dreaming about it, brainstorming," he says, then he took on company manager Alyson Brokenshire, who got to work finding the choreographer a few gigs. Today he and the dancers work in San Francisco while administrative offices are based in Washington, giving the company two homes and two home seasons a year.

"Holding Pattern," a new work, features an oversize suspended box of fluorescent lights designed by Greg Emetaz, which Levy says reins in the three dancers. "It started as an investigation into the devices that we use to keep ourselves comfortable and functional in the world," Levy explains. "Maybe once they were appropriate, but they have become limiting." The choreographer, who relies heavily on his dancers' collaborative contributions to the creative process, asked them to enact physical responses to remembered experiences, which they then magnified by increasing the dynamics, size and shape of the movement.

Levy saw the poetic in response to his movement problems: "We found the motion in stillness and in the undercurrent that happens in the sweep of an arm. We exaggerated . . . we magnified . . . and we interrupted [flow] with tension and a sense of human agency. That's the physical world of 'Holding Pattern.' " The program also features "That Four Letter Word," Levy's nonverbal conversations about love; "pOrtal," an intense quartet of interwoven abstractions; and the duet "Falling After Two," created with guest choreographer Darrin Michael Wright.

"Choreography was always a way for me to communicate things I didn't even know I was communicating," says Levy, who has a penchant for exploring both the brainy and the sexy in his dances. He began making works in an innovative dance program at Beverly Hills High School. "I was always very physical, but I was happy to avoid running laps in gym class," Levy says about his reason for signing up for his first dance class.

"I have this profound need to investigate the essence of who I am and what it is to be human," he says. "There's a desire to communicate in a way that words can't for me. . . . There's an honesty in the body and an honesty in the human experience that is like telling the story in first person. Instead of telling about the experience, you're having the experience."

LEVYDANCE -- Saturday at 8, Sunday at 7. Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. 202-269-1600.

At 23, Benjamin Levy, left, already has his own troupe, LEVYdance, started in 2002.