Pennsylvania Ballet's 'Romance' showcases thrilling athleticism

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Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Nacho Duato’s "Remansos" part of "Romance,” a three-part mixed bill in performance at the Merriam Theater though April 9, 2017.

Romance, a three-part mixed bill in performance at the Merriam Theater through Sunday, is a great showcase for the Pennsylvania Ballet’s ever-increasing technical expertise and stylistic versatility.

The program opens with the world premiere of Nicolo Fonte’s stunning “Ghost Stories.” A work for five couples, plus rising corps member Albert Gordon, it  stresses yearning contrasted with despair. 

"Ghost Dance" begins with designer Brad Fields' dramatic introduction of Oksana Maslova, revealed on the darkened stage by a column of light. Fonte’s choreography is endlessly inventive, notably in a trio featuring Sterling Baca, Ian Hussey, and Dayesi Torriente. 

Fonte creates unexpected movements and powerful pauses, echoing the cascade of sound provided by the (taped) music of Ezio Bosso and Max Richter.  Martha Chamberlain’s costumes are stylish.

During a preshow Q&A, stager Kim David McCarthy pointed out that Nacho Duato’s “Remansos" (roughly, "quiet eddies in a river") is regarded as a benchmark within the ballet world:  “If you’ve danced it,” he said, "people understand that you’re working at a very high level.” 

True enough, this delightfully quirky piece also makes unusual physical demands on its six performers, especially the men, who use skills typically associated with rock-climbing.

In this company premiere, the outstanding work done by Baca, Ana Calderón, Lillian DiPiazza, Jermel Johnson, Arián Molina Soca, and Mayara Piñeiro match the exquisite interpretation of Enrique Granados’ music by pianist Martha Koeneman. 

The first section includes Duato’s signature folk-dance heelwork and body slaps. Part two pits the men against a mysterious wall, which they cling to, hide behind, and arrange themselves against in increasingly complex combinations. 

You can’t go wrong ending an evening with George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony,” all handsome cowboys and glamorous dance-hall girls, accompanied by the Pennsylvania Ballet orchestra. 

Standouts Thursday night were the virtuosic Amy Aldridge, flirtatious Maslova, Johnson’s always-astonishing leaps, Torriente’s impressive solo, and Molina Soca, who let his "inner goofball” shine, while also serving as an attentive partner and fleet-footed hoofer.

Additional performances:  7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St.  Tickets: $35-135. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.paballet.org.