Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Riolama Lorenzo's final performance before retiring is Sunday, but it was already a lovefest Thursday night, when the company opened its Pushing Boundaries series at the Merriam Theater.
The theater was buzzing with talk of Lorenzo, both before the show and during the two intermissions. And she didn't disappoint, dancing two Matthew Neenan ballets, 11:11, set to six songs by Rufus Wainwright, and in a gorgeous, mature pas de deux with Zachary Hench in Keep.
Created in 2009, Keep is a beautiful ballet, featuring a suite of, mostly, duets about relationships, set to string quartets by Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. But it also could be interpreted as Lorenzo's bittersweet bourrée into the next phase of her life, as fresh-faced dancers in pink eagerly fill the gap. Lorenzo, in a yellow gown, stands in the shadows during a long section, then kneels to lean over a fallen colleague and, with bits of chiffon floating around her, melts into her partner in pirouettes and dramatic ports de bras.
The piece ends with Lorenzo alone on stage, spinning on a stool as the curtain comes down.
Neenan's 2005 11:11 is one of his classic works, a well-paced suite of dances featuring a large cast pulsating as the seconds tick off in the music, and rotating in a Bolero-like circle to Wainwright's "Oh What a World," which includes a nod to the Ravel composition. A man picks up a woman and rotates her clockwise, her legs like hands of the clock.
The evening opened with The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, by William Forsythe, a 1996 ballet of great speed and - ideally - precision, set to the last movement of Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C major.
It felt like an audition for future Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancers, and perhaps it was. All the company's principals danced Thursday night, but Vertiginous Thrill featured three female soloists (Lauren Fadeley, Brooke Moore, and Barette Vance Widell) and two men from the corps de ballet (Andrew Daly and Tyler Savoie).
All were up to the task, but few got the exactitude. My audition callback goes to Fadeley, who had the most precise footwork while projecting an air of fun and ease.
Additional performances: Pennsylvania Ballet repeats Pushing Boundaries at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Merriam Theater. 215-893-1999.