Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Amy Aldridge took her final bows at the Academy of Music on Sunday afternoon, as she retired from the stage with the big smiles and humor that have made her an audience favorite for 23 seasons.
Two by two, her fellow dancers, mostly in street clothes, walked on stage and placed single red roses at her feet as the audience gave her a standing ovation for more than 10 minutes.
The dancers were followed by the artistic staff bearing bouquets, including choreographer-in-residence Matthew Neenan, whose ballet she danced earlier in the afternoon, as well as artistic director Angel Corella and his predecessor, Roy Kaiser, who hired her.
The orchestra members also tossed single roses up from the pit, and confetti canons were shot from the wings.
Sterling Baca and Arian Molina Soca, still wearing costumes from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, lifted Aldridge on their shoulders.
Aldridge took it in stride, bowing, celebrating with outstretched arms, hugging her colleagues, and chatting with many. She wiped her eyes just once, but also joked about the effort behind what she had accomplished, wiping sweat from her brow and tugging at the heels of her pointe shoes. And yet she still remembered to bow to and thank the orchestra.
Aldridge worked until the very end, dancing principal roles in three ballets: Neenan's Somnolence and two Balanchine ballets: Tarantella and the Rubies pas de deux from Jewels, which closed the performance.
Tarantella was a welcome surprise, as she was not cast in that piece during this week's season finale. But it's a special role for Aldridge, one she danced many times over the years, including in the New York City Ballet's Balanchine Celebration in 2004, when dancers from various Balanchine-oriented companies were invited to perform at New York's Lincoln Center.
On Sunday, she danced the fast, fun choreography with corps de ballet dancer Craig Wasserman, both loaded with personality. The ballet begins with them running on stage waving, one last hello.
In Neenan's Somnolence, Aldridge danced the role that got the last laugh and the most applause.
She closed the afternoon with Rubies, which she last danced in 2013, when the Pennsylvania Ballet performed Jewels for the company's 50th anniversary. Announcing her retirement in March, she remembered that 2013 performance as some of the best dancing of her career.
Rubies was Aldridge's last dance Sunday afternoon, and she performed the angular movements with Alexander Peters, also a beloved principal dancer. It
was also Peters' final moment on stage at the Academy of Music, as he is leaving to join Miami City Ballet.
As the lights went down, the swell of appreciation began.