Think: the inherent mystery of space. Think: unexpected, magical, playful, illusionary, wistful. Think: Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak, whose Hydra opens the Israel Festival on Saturday night. Three high fabric walls - there's an opening in the central one - enclose the stage. On it, there's a bench and hovering above, a suspended sack. It's rather like a three-dimensional canvas against which, rather than on, things happen. "Every process is a progression into the unknown," says Pinto, "so there's no definition about the kinds of movement that will happen, but we start with movement. Our search is through movement." "The space, like the dance, happened as we worked," adds Pollak. "It wasn't planned in advance." There are 12 dancers: Six women and six men - two of them Japanese - and Hydra accommodates and embraces part of the contemporary Japanese esthetic into its essentially Western approach. "We go through the world like sponges," says Pinto, explaining the Japanese influences in the piece, "and absorb everything for taste and texture. Japan has tastes and textures different from anywhere else in the sense that the visual is precise, detailed. It's an esthetic that affords a very different perception. "I think the Japanese are very inward-looking, very conservative and it's this conservatism that the current generation of Japanese artists is breaking open. There are these opposites in Japan today, and seeking that connection between opposites applies to our own work as well." DANCER PINTO and actor Pollak met in 1992 when the latter needed someone to create movement for a play he was directing at Nissan Nativ, and they've been together ever since. The saucy, mischievous Oyster catapulted the pair to local and international recognition in 1999, and this was followed by pieces such as Boobies, What Good Would the Moon Be and Shaker. They've also directed Willibald Gluck's opera Armide - both here and in Germany. The couple's links with Japan go back to 2000 when they were invited to give a series of workshops there. Then, over the years, they created dance in Japan, toured both Boobies and Oyster (the latter twice), and last year the Saitama Arts Foundation together with the Saitama Arts Theater invited Pinto and Pollak to create a new work. The Israel Festival and Switzerland's Steps International Dance Festival got into the act, and Hydra was born. A many-headed mythical beast slain by Hercules; a Greek Island; the largest of the modern star constellations; the third moon of Pluto; a microscopic freshwater predator; all of these are hydra, and so naming the piece Hydra, says Pollak, a twinkle in his eye, "was sure to awaken questions, and we want that." Part of the Israel Festival, Hydra plays at the Sherover Theater May 24 at 9:30 pm and on the 25th at 9 pm.