Two squares of light on the floor were the subtle focal point for It's All About Love (Cunningham Studio, May), an evening-length work inspired by choreographer Guido Tuveri's post-9-11 re-evaluations. In the hands of his Sanza Nemo Collectivea nimble, vivid ensemble of 40 dancers from Italy to Denmarkit became a 21st-century Canterbury Tales. A high-speed dating game led into a mad peasant wedding. A mother hectored her daughter ("It's my only job, your happiness!"). One Japanese woman in a teeming throng had several dozen hilarious fainting spells, while a gentle lady in a yellow gown watched over the whole brood. In the end, as a satire of machismo turned ominously from throwing fists to flying planes, the dancers crowded into the squares of light. A tense moment passed, then a few stretched their hands into the sky, with others dancing slow and close. Skilled in both mayhem and meditation, the Collective shared the tenderness still to be found in the midst of life's terrors. Alicia Mosier
Two legends depicting women as passionate, jealous animals underlaid new works choreographed and deftly performed by mature contemporary Japanese dancer Midori Kashiwagi (Florence Gould, June 6). With a small white fox mask and lavender umbrella, Kashiwagi poignantly embodied slyness in Matsuri Fantasy, partnering three hot, bare-chested male dynamos (Slam, Billy Angell, and Francisco Graciano) to driving Japanese drumming. The tantalizing men, whose credits range from Broadway to MTV, physically towered over but never shaded the slight Kashiwagi, who smoothly seduced and ensnared them one by one. As Princess Kiyohime, Kashiwagi entered the forbidden domain of a monk in training (Takayuki Kojima), and made eye contact; both were briefly smitten. The monk's desperate prayers were futile. The rejected princess transformed into a slithering snake, and in their ensuing battle climbed his body and bound him with his prayer book. Like the fox, eventually the snake prevailed; both monk and snake collapsed dramatically amid stage thunder and lightning. Bonnie Sue Stein
The Paris Opera Ballet School is the oldest of its kind in the world, and it shows: Almost 300 years after its creation by Louis XIV in 1713, its most advanced students, who performed five pieces at John Jay Theater in May, still carry the marks of the 17th-century ballet de cour, whose mission was to display the power of royalty. The Paris Opera Ballet and its school still maintain values like discipline and hierarchy, while favoring elegant dancing. The rigid training left the visiting students looking occasionally step-concerned, as in the opening piece, John Taras's Dessin pour six. But we forgave them, since for the rest finessewas the only word that came to mind. In Jean-Guillaume Bart's flowing Péchés de Jeunesse, the boys demonstrated comely, suspended jumps while the girls lingered deliciously in planépirouettes. Throughout, the 25 dancers showed definite virtuosity and artistic sense, marked with delicate lower-leg work, subtle (but slightly precious: We're talking royalty here) arm movement, and quiet shoulders. Dessin also featured sharp ensembles that soothed with their musical and kinesthetic precision (I haven't seen much of it this season). Special mention goes to young soloist Laura Hecquet, who took up the challenge of interpreting Western Symphony in front of a Balanchine-aware audience and met it with boldness and brio.
The School of American Ballet's 38th annual workshop performance (Juilliard Theater, June) was colorful in contrast, filled with students' spontaneous enthusiasm and great sense of showmanship. Balanchine's Ballo della Regina set the mood: With active hands and arms, often overarched backs, and perpetual smiles, 12 girls fouettéed high or threw themselves into wildly fast little revolving steps. Soloist Megan Fairchild, expertly guided by partner David Blumenfeld, achieved daring attitude turns. Peter Martins's endless Les Gentilhommesallowed us leisure to admire the boys' strong technique. If they lacked their French counterparts' subtlety, they displayed assertive and manly dancing, supported by more powerful bodies. Soloist Benjamin Griffith filled space with earthbound and far-reaching movement, excelling both in turns and high jumps. Damian Woetzel's new Copland Portrait introduced a more informal feel, bringing forward dancers like Allen Pfeiffer, whose relaxed attitudesperfectly matched Aaron Copland's blues. Overall, the evening resembled the concluding work, Balanchine's Brahms Schoenberg Quartet's "Rondo alla Zingarese": spectacular and aggressively efficient like the multicolored and richly adorned Slavic costumes, but, like the "folky" settled-on-one-hip poses of the corps, lacking a little bit of class. Sylvaine Sidorowicz