Ariana Lallone, 42, will depart Pacific Northwest Ballet at the end of the 2010-11 season, and be part of a special encore performance June 12. This summer, she'll join the cast of Teatro ZinZanni.

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When Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Ariana Lallone first learned the role of Hippolyta in George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she was barely out of her teens. “It was probably my second or third year with the company,” she remembered. “It was a challenge. I was very robust and eager and athletic. Francia [Russell, former PNB co-artistic director] would say to me, ‘It’s great to have all of that stuff, but you have to refine all of it.’ “

She refined it, and then some. A tall, striking dancer known for her dramatic intensity, beautifully high arabesque and seemingly endless limbs, Lallone will dance her final performances of Hippolyta in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” this month and will end her PNB career in June after nearly a quarter-century with the company. Seattle audiences, for whom she’s long been a special favorite, will remember her slinky Siren in “The Prodigal Son,” her brooding Peacock in “Nutcracker,” the joyous freedom of her solo in “Lambarena,” the passionate grief of her Lady Capulet in “Roméo et Juliette,” and countless other signature roles; no one in the company looks like Lallone, and no one dances quite like her, either. Lallone, 42, will finish out the season and will be part of a special encore performance June 12 as her final bow (see related story).

“I’m really grateful for the time I’ve been here in the history of the company,” she said in an interview last month, remembering the changes she’s watched over the years. During her time at PNB, the company moved headquarters from the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford to sleek studios on Mercer Street, celebrated the opening of McCaw Hall, toured extensively, installed a new artistic director and more.

She recalled, for example, performing “Nutcracker” at the Paramount while the old Opera House was being remodeled into McCaw Hall. “We couldn’t warm up for the second act because there was no room to do anything but reset [the stage] for second act,” she said, laughing.

The departure will be a major change, and an emotional one, for a dancer who’s been with the company “since I was a baby.” She arrived from her native Southern California just after high-school graduation in 1986. Unusually tall for a dancer (she’s 5 feet 11 inches), she came to PNB after a faculty member assured her that “we grow them tall in Seattle.” After a year at the PNB school, she was offered an apprenticeship in the company by artistic directors Russell and Kent Stowell, and she joined the corps de ballet in 1987.

Hers has been an unusual career, with her height limiting potential pas de deux partners; Lallone has performed more solo roles than other PNB principal ballerinas, and fewer classical duet roles. Though she’s danced with many partners — among them Jeffrey Stanton, Olivier Wevers, Christoph Maravel and Stanko Milov — she didn’t perform lead roles in the full-length classical ballets.

“I was never Juliet, I was never Swanhilda, I was never Odette/Odile,” she said. “I was completely fine with that. I trusted Kent and Francia in that they knew it was not necessarily my place here.” Lallone remembers, though, repertory evenings in which she’d perform several ballets in a row — one favorite night was back-to-back performances in Balanchine’s “Violin Concerto,” Nacho Duato’s “Jardi Tancat” and Stowell’s “Hail the Conquering Hero.” “I thought, that’s my full-length ballet,” she said.

A dancer like Lallone doesn’t fit well into a line of shorter ballerinas, and so it took a little while for her to rise in the ranks. “It was fine for an errant snowflake, or a taller swan, but other things it didn’t work,” she said. “There were a lot of [ballets] I didn’t do because it wouldn’t have looked right. A lot of times I would just work on something and not perform it.” Lallone remembers Russell saying that the company couldn’t promote her just because she didn’t fit into the corps — she had to be good. She was, and was promoted to soloist in 1993 and to the coveted top position of principal just a year later.

“The whole rest of my life was a huge surprise — the tours we went on and the opportunities I had with choreographers. Just amazing, really a dream for any kind of dancer.”

Looking back, Lallone remembers many ballets that helped to shape her as a dancer, and that she’ll badly miss, naming Stowell’s “Carmina Burana” and “Carmen”; Balanchine’s “Rubies” and “Four Temperaments”; Val Caniparoli’s “Lambarena”; William Forsythe’s “In the middle, somewhat elevated” and many more. “I have many, many special performances sort of locked away,” she said.

And, in a world where it’s rare to spend decades with one company, she’ll miss her longtime connection with PNB audiences. “That’s one thing about being in a company and staying is developing those relationships with the audience,” she said. “I’m really grateful to have that, to have lived in the same area in Seattle and have that longevity with audience members and the company.”

She’s disappointed that her PNB career is ending earlier than she had hoped, emphasizing that she is leaving, not “retiring.” Though she knew that eventually it would be time to stop dancing, Lallone said she had hoped to continue for all or part of next season, describing the current period as “a really rapturous time as an artist” for her. But she says she was not given the opportunity. “Peter [Boal, company artistic director] has visions for the company for next season that did not include me being here,” she said.

Boal, asked to respond, said, “I think one of the responsibilities of an artistic director is to guide dancers in the timing for concluding a career. It’s never easy, and oftentimes it takes a conversation that lasts for several years. I would hope that I’ve given the right guidance in this case. But I felt this season was the right season to be Ariana’s last. And I also feel that her contribution to the company has been unprecedented, remarkable, and that is how I look at this great career.”

Lallone will move on to a new challenge — “one of those amazing things that happen; one door closed and the other one opened.” She’ll join the cast of the elaborate dinner-theater/spectacle Teatro ZinZanni. “It was really important for me to continue performing,” she said. She doesn’t know too many details yet, but will begin rehearsals in August for a production that will open in September.

Lallone says she’s seen many Teatro ZinZanni productions, and is thrilled to make the company her new artistic home, just across the street from her old one. She bubbles over talking about it. “The whole thing is about entertainment and fun and bringing joy to people’s lives and love and happiness — it’s sort of contagious and you always leave the event feeling just nothing but joy and fun. There are a lot more theatrical things involved, as far as speaking or acting, and it’s going to stretch me artistically. I’m looking forward to pushing my limits.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or