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Deborah Hadley

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I'll post the press release elsewhere, but wanted to say something here in the PNB forum about her.

I was able to go to the panel discussion during the recent run of Midsummer Night’s Dream, celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary.  I had thought I might post my notes from the conversation, but in light of Deborah Hadley’s unexpected death, I’m just going to excerpt her comments for now – I hope to come back and fill in the blanks later.

Hadley was the most senior member of the panel – other participants were Angela Sterling and Eric Hippolito, with Kiyon Ross as the moderator. 

Hadley started dancing in her home town of San Diego at age 7, and moved to NYC to join the Joffrey II company at 17.  She was disturbed by her experience there, and went back to California where she said she “left ballet” and had two children.  Visiting her sister Tamara (who was with Pennsylvania Ballet) she took some classes, and felt that perhaps she could still be dancing in some capacity.  Her sister encouraged her to continue, and mentioned that there was a young company getting started in Seattle with Kent Stowell and Francia Russell in charge.  Hadley was skeptical (according to her, she hadn’t danced seriously in 6 years), but did eventually audition, and was hired in 1979.  (a 26 week contract at $275/week).  She retired from the company in 1991, and went on to teach and coach.

Answering Ross’s question “what kept you here for such a long time”, she said “What else would I want?”  Russell and Stowell took care of their dancers.  “I came from a good basis, and the company was in the same place – we grew up together.”

She was the ballerina at the beginning of the company, when things were still pretty young.  She retired before the company built their current home at the Seattle Center – she remembers rehearsing the pas de deux for Stowell’s “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet” in the basement of the Good Shepherd Center. (which if you're not familiar with it, was "a home for wayward girls" until the early 1970s)  When asked about favorite roles, her list is pretty much a roll call of the early rep, including the Romeo, Voluntaries, The Cage, a number of Balanchine works, and several pas de deux by Stowell that were made on her.

Ross asked for more details about Stowell’s Romeo, and Hadley said she didn’t often talk about it – the sense she gave is that the whole process was fairly private.  She did say that Stowell allowed himself to be very vulnerable, and would try things that were outside his usual material.  Apparently he wouldn’t let Russell come and watch the process. 

Ross asked for “embarrassing stories” from performances, and Hadley told a couple that were based around Midsummer.  In general, she was considered short for Titiania – during one run of the ballet Michael Auer put a booster seat in the shell where Titania sleeps.  And during another performance, again with Michael Auer, they had a glitchy rehearsal with the Divertisment pas de deux – at the end of the duet, where he turns her over after she leans forward and falls into his arms, the turning got out of hand, and she almost rolled off onto the floor.

Talking about her long experience working on the Balanchine repertory with Francia Russell, Hadley said that it was always the simplest choice that was the most effective.  She did admit, though, that when she first joined the company, she had never seen a Balanchine ballet (this was long before the internet, or even before home video).  When she said this to Russell, “I felt like I told the Pope I’d never read the Bible.”

And when asked how she knew when to retire, she said that she was turning 40 during her last run of Romeo and Juliet.  She felt she was dancing at her peak, in the ballet she loved best – it was the time to stop.  She didn’t say anything to anyone until it was the last performance – she told her partner Ben Houck backstage before curtain, and that was it.

I didn’t get to see her perform very often – her career was mostly before I was working as a dance critic, and I couldn’t afford to go to the ballet very often, but what I do remember is someone who danced with clarity and authority.  You could tell that she was showing you the real choreography.

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Thank you so much for posting this. I'm going to tell my daughter about it. She is really grieving the news of her passing. Debby (or Ms Hadley as my daughter calls her) focused so much on her dancers and their own journeys. We rarely heard her talk about herself. Just small details here and there. I know my daughter would love to hear about this summary from the recent Q&A. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

Edited by piquearabesque
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We received a message today from Robert DeLong,


it is with great sadness I have just heard of Debra's passing. I had the great opportunity as Executive director of Seattle Children's Home and a psychologist to work with her students with disabilities and difficulties. She was a wonderful and caring person that I hd the greatest respect for. Apologies for the lateness of this message however I have lived in New Zealand for several decades and news like this comes slowly if at all. My condolences to her friends and family. I will never forget the opportunity I hd to work with her.


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