Philadelphia Ballet first danced Hans van Manen’s Grosse Fuge in 1975, four years after the Dutch choreographer created it for Nederlands Dans Theater.

The ballet brought it back to the Academy of Music Thursday in a program of three van Manen works collectively called Humankind, which explore a variety of human interactions, some more intimate than others.

It looked so modern and fresh that it was hard to imagine it was first danced here nearly 50 years ago.

But while it was a welcome return, the program is also bittersweet, because it is principal dancer Jermel Johnson’s final one with the company. He retires after dancing this on Sunday.

Johnson is featured in two of the three pieces and it’s hard to watch the bigger picture during his final performances. He has been a dynamic dancer over the years, but has mellowed into a more restrained presence.

This opening piece, Gross Fuge, is set to a string quartet playing Beethoven, whose music famously often stymies choreographers.

Here, van Manen deftly groups four men and four women — the women in white leotards, the men in long black skirts, which they later remove in favor of tiny black briefs. The men (including Johnson) spend most of the piece interacting near the women rather than with them. They perform steps in a square formation and then the women, who had been standing off to the side for a long time, get their turn at nearly the same steps.

Then they break out into duets, each pair exploring a different section of the music. Oksana Maslova and Sterling Baca’s section introduces small leaps, poses, and starts and stops that we would explore later in the program with more tango-like dancing.

Variations for Two Couples will be our last glimpse of Johnson, who was paired with Maslova for a lovely stretchy duet featuring both dancers’ exceptional arabesques, kicks, and splits. Later in the piece, they introduced those sharper tango movements. Dayesi Torriente and Arian Molina Soca were the second couple, and dancing a faster section, including impressive pirouettes and other turns.

This piece, set to music by Benjamin Britten, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer, and Astor Piazzolla, shows off both couples beautifully with clean lines both in the costuming (unitards) and movements.

The program ends with 5 Tangos, a piece for seven couples exploring that dance form even further, set to music by Piazzolla. Here, van Manen goes beyond the traditional dance to discover both the modern and balletic ways it can be danced.

The main couple, Nayara Lopes and Ashton Roxander, dazzled, but most impressive was Roxander’s sharp, confident solo full of tricks and turns that made him look like a younger version of his boss, Philadelphia Ballet artistic director Angel Corella, who got raves around the world for very similar dancing.


Philadelphia Ballet in “Humankind”

Through Sunday. Academy of Music. Tickets start at $25., 215-893-1999.