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Deborah Hadley 1951-2023

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From the press release

Pacific Northwest Ballet announces the passing of former Principal Dancer Deborah Hadley (1951 - 2023).

SEATTLE, WA - With great sadness and on behalf of her family, Pacific Northwest Ballet announces the sudden passing of Deborah Hadley, PNB’s original prima ballerina. Hadley joined PNB in 1979 and reigned as a Principal Dancer for 13 years. In reporting on her retirement, Carole Beers of The Seattle Times described Hadley as “the ballerina who shaped PNB’s look.” And PNB Founding Artistic Director Kent Stowell, at that time, commented that “What was wonderful about Debby, a message I would send to all dancers, is that she was a true collaborator, a partner in choreography. She had trust and belief, was a willing instrument. When a choreographer finds that, it’s like striking gold.” Upon her retirement from PNB, Ms. Hadley founded the Washington Academy of Performing Arts in Redmond, WA, and subsequently became the Ballet Mistress of the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet.

Hadley’s accomplishments cannot be overstated, even though she often underplayed them herself. She did, however, acknowledge - on occasion - the level of her achievements: “I’ve broken almost every rule in the book,” she told a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1988. “I wasn’t trained at a large ballet school. I didn’t train with the intention of becoming a professional dancer. I stopped dancing at a critical time. I have two children and I’m a single parent. That makes me very unique.”

“Debby was our star, adored by our audiences and her colleagues, and the inspiration for the young dancers who followed her,” said PNB Founding Artistic Director Francia Russell. “Memories of her in a host of ballets will be in all our heads and hearts forever. For Kent and me she was also a beloved friend.”

“To everyone whose lives were touched by our amazing Mom, it was reciprocal and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” said her sons Brandon and Brian Kickbush. “When Mom retired from dancing, she continued to soar by learning to fly and getting a pilot’s license to accompany her husband.

“The cause nearest and dearest to Mom’s heart was bringing art to all children. The family suggests that, in lieu of flowers, gifts to organizations in support of arts for children would be meaningful and appreciated.”

Deborah Hadley was born and raised in San Diego, and began her studies at the San Diego Ballet continuing to the rank of principal dancer with the regional company. She went on to become a charter member of the Joffrey II in 1969. Taking time off to marry and have two boys, she returned to her ballet career in 1979 when she joined Pacific Northwest Ballet, where she remained a Principal Dancer for the next thirteen years.  Ms. Hadley’s distinguished performing career also included appearances as a guest artist with Kozlov and Stars, Godunov and Stars, and in the title role of Giselle with Antony Dowell, in addition to many companies across the United States.  With PNB, her leading roles in full-length ballets included Odette/Odile, Juliet, Cinderella, Swanilda, and Titania, as well as in major works of George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Antony Tudor, Glen Tetley, Clark Tippet, Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch, Vicente Nebrada and Val Caniparoli, some of which were created for her.  Kent Stowell created many original works for her, including Pas de Deux Campagnolo, Orpheus Portrait, and the ballet that she considered the highlight of her career, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Upon retiring from her PNB performing career, Ms. Hadley founded the Washington Academy of Performing Arts in Redmond, Washington.  She subsequently became the Ballet Mistress of the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet (now known as Texas Ballet Theater).  Ms. Hadley served as Adjudicator for several RDA regions and was instrumental in helping The Ballet Alliance (an association of pre-professional ballet companies) specify its technical and artistic standards.  She most recently taught privately and served as a Guest Teacher and Ambassador for The Ballet Alliance.


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She has been my daughter's mentor for the past 5 years. She was an amazing person and a phenomenal teacher. My daughter wouldn't be the dancer she is without her. She retired from performing long before my daughter was born and video is hard to find. I would love to read comments from those who were fortunate enough to see her perform and pass them on to my daughter.

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I wish I had seen her, but she retired just a few years before I moved to Seattle.  I learned of her from a dance magazine where she was on the cover, but I don't remember if it was Dance Magazine or the long-defunct Ballet News.

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My condolences to Debby's family, her colleagues and friends, her students and families, and all who were touched by her.  I am one of the fortunate people who grew up watching her perform on stage and later worked with her in several different settings.  Her legacy is great, reaches wide, and will live on in all of us.  

My favorite moments from the audience were watching Debby dance the variation from Firebird.  You could see in her expressions when she took the stage for the solo as if she had just eaten a most delicious morsel- in her eyes and the aura of energy she created around herself, a combination of confidence, charisma, and unapologetic, professional mischief.  Those entrances were as entertaining as her actual dancing.  From there, her feet would never touch the ground, her legs would blur in a constant brise position, and the expression on her face was one of pure joy as she knew how lightning fast she could dance such technically intricate and challenging choreography.    

In Swan Lake, there was complete command, complete commitment to the character, and full transformation into the role.  She filled the stage, again with an energy and warmth for everyone onstage with her and for the audience full to the back of the theater.  She really loved the role of Odette/ Odile and often very affectionately referred to the work it takes to create the swan port de bras.

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Thank you for the eyewitness reports!  I only saw her perform a few times (I couldn't afford to go regularly), but she was indeed the leading dancer of her time.  One of my colleagues described her dancing as "cool and crisp, like a stream."  It was interesting to me that she spoke about her feeling that she "grew up with the company," since I never perceived her as anything other than assured.

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