South Street Dance Company records
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Overview and metadata sections
The following biographical/historical note was written by Miriam Giguere in 1991.
ELLEN FORMAN Ellen Forman (1945-1990), founder of the South Street Dance Company, grew up in New York, where she studied with many of the great modern dance artists including Merce Cunningham, Anna Sokolow, Dan Wagoner, and Jose Limon. She received a B.A. from Brooklyn College, and an M.A. in English, with minors in dance and creative writing, from the University of Wisconsin. After moving to Philadelphia, her first dance-theater piece, Five Women, was presented at the Harold Prince Theater.
In 1974, she co-founded the South Street Dance Company. Between 1974 and 1985, she created twelve dances for the Company including Counterpoint, Quartet for the End of Time, Concord Cafeteria, Pageant, Correspondences and Legend. In 1980, she began touring her one-woman “Moving Theater” program based on the work of Isadora Duncan. In 1986, she founded “body / language”, an organization that produced new work that crossed the boundaries between dance, theater, and the visual arts.
As Director of the South Street Dance Company and as a solo artist, she performed and taught throughout the Eastern and Midwestern United States. In the Philadelphia area she appeared at the Painted Bride Art Center, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, The Academy of Music, Zellerbach Theater, the Walnut Street Theatre, and Movement Theatre International, as well as Temple University, Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania, University of Delaware, Community College of Philadelphia, University of the Arts and Saint Joseph’s University.
Ellen Forman’s work is known for its unusual combination of words and movement, its exploration of verbal, kinetic and visual languages. Many of her major pieces have been collaborations—she worked with visual artists Jogy Pinto and Elaine Crivelli, puppet and mask-maker Jane Stein, filmmaker Peter Rose, composers Pauline Oliveros and Joseph Waters, and actor-director Fred Curchak.
She began working with actors in 1982, and created movement for productions of the Walnut Street Theatre and the Pennsylvania Opera Theater, directed the annual experimental Performance Ensemble Workshop at the Walnut Street Theatre, and taught Movement for Actors at Philadelphia Theater Company, Wilma Theater, Movement Theater International and the Walnut Street Theatre.
She was also known for her work with children and young adults. Ellen created dances with and for young people for sixteen years, working individually, with the South Street Dance Company, through Young Audiences and as part of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts’ Artist in Education program. In 1990, she began body/language: other/voices, a multi-arts residency program for Philadelphia high school students.
Forman was awarded three Choreographic Fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Painted Bride Art Center’s Interdisciplinary Artists’ Program Award. Her work has also been recognized by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the Philadelphia Foundation, the Pennsylvania Arts Council’s Dance and Interdisciplinary programs, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the William Penn Foundation, the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation and the Samuel S. Fels Fund.
After her sudden death in December 1990, The Ellen Forman Memorial Scholarship Fund was formed through the Philadelphia Foundation, to keep alive the memory of Ellen’s contributions to dance, theater, and dance education. In November 1991 current and former dancers from the South Street Dance Company came together to present a retrospective of Ms. Forman’s work at Movement Theatre International. Proceeds from this benefit concert were contributed to the Ellen Forman Memorial Scholarship Fund which awards a scholarship to a Philadelphia dancer / choreographer each year in Ellen Forman’s memory.
SOUTH STREET DANCE COMPANY In 1972, when Ellen Forman created Five Women, a powerful, feminist, dance-theatre piece, South Street, in Philadelphia, was an urban frontier for artists. Inspired by the success of Five Women and the support of the South Street business community, Ellen Forman and Alice Forner founded South Street Dance Company (SSDC) in 1974. The Painted Bride, an art center located on South Street, became the location for South Street’s first concert on June 6, 1974. The first edition of the Company included Ellen Forman, Alice Forner, Lovice Weller, Paula Sepinuck, Mark Taylor, Susan Salinger, Tom Brown and Lib Briscoe- all strong creative individuals whose ideals and energies were harnessed into the building of the Company. This group worked together until 1978, when the Company was reformed with Alice Forner as co-director.
Ellen’s leadership allowed many different voices to be heard. Guest choreographers, dancers, musicians and collaborative artists such as Anna Sokolow, Jody Pinto and Pauline Oliveros joined the creative and innovative projects that became the trademark of SSDC. SSDC also became well known for its community outreach. The Company offered an intergenerational program Life cycles as well as workshops, residencies and lecture demonstrations for Young Audiences, a program in which Binnie Ritchie-Holum was an instrumental part.
In 1975, Ellen created Dream of Genesis, a work focusing on the process of creation. In 1976, Ellen premiered Concord Cafeteria, a retrospective look at dance through time and American culture. 1978 brought the premiere of Ellen’s solo Your Spirit at the Window: A Solo Tribute to Isadora Duncan to the stage. In 1979, the two hour work Correspondences, created with co-director Alice Forner was presented at the Zellerbach Theater of the Annenberg Center. Also in 1979 SSDC began its Dance by the Sea program. Held in Cape May, NJ each summer, this annual intensive dance event (Co-hosted, beginning in 1980, by Evelyn Shepard and other guest teachers), offered classes in modern dance, technique, repertory, improvisation and performance. In 1981, as a result of a residency at the Yellow Springs Institute, Ellen created Threshold. This was followed by Pageant, a piece based on the visions and classic dance work Day on Earth, which she presented with Pageant in a nine campus tour of Penn State University. Also that same year Ellen created Close Quarters, in collaboration with Atmos Percussion, which was presented at the Annenberg Center’s Philadelphia Dance Umbrella. In 1985, Ellen created her last large group work Legend, loosely based on the fairy tale Rapunzel.
From 1986 until 1990, Ellen concentrated her creative efforts on smaller works including the solo body/language and the duet Bread Chronicles. She produced five annual body/language concerts at the Painted Bride. These concerts showcased artists including Ellen herself who integrated text with movement. After Ellen's death in 1990, the Company continued its educational outreach work in schools under the direction of Miriam Giguere. In accordance with Ellen’s wishes, the Company changed its name to Body Language Dance Company.
Through its history SSDC always followed Ellen’s belief in “dance that engages audiences’ intellects and emotions… the primary reason to make art: to express what it is to be human.”
COMMUNITY PROGRAMS Ellen Forman and South Street Dance Company hosted several community programs. They fall roughly into four major projects: Young Audiences lecture demonstrations and workshops, School residencies, Life Cycles senior adult programs, Body/language: other/voices high school interdisciplinary arts program.
South Street Dance Company maintained an ensemble with Young Audiences of Eastern Pennsylvania beginning in 1975. This ensemble presented lecture demonstration programs at area schools. Numbers of yearly programs varied, but were frequently quite high ranging from 62 to 88 programs per year. Casts varied but averaged at five performers on yearly contracts with one or two substitute performers.
Ellen Forman and South Street Dance Company led numerous school residency programs. These usually consisted of a lecture demonstration program with the Company, a series of workshops for students at the school, and a culminating assembly with student performers. Some of these residencies were funded by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, others by Young Audiences, others by the school’s PTA.
Life Cycles was an intergenerational project that included performances and workshops for Philadelphia area senior adults. The project took place from 1981 through 1983.
Body/language: other/voices was an interdisciplinary, multi arts residency for Philadelphia High Schools. Students participated in workshops in a number of art forms including dance, video and poetry. Occurring in more than one high school simultaneously, the project culminated in performances at each of the participating schools, sometimes with students from both high schools in one performance. The project began in 1989 and continued until at least 1991.
The South Street Dance Company records houses audiovisual materials, photographs, administrative records, playbills, flyers, posters, newspaper clippings, financial records, correspondence, costumes and props dating from 1969 to 1991. This collection documents the performances and some daily operations of the South Street Dance Company and its founder, Ellen Forman. There is relatively little textual material in this collection; the bulk is made up of videotapes, audiotapes and photographs of performances and programs, and objects used during performances.
Overall, this collection provides a comprehensive overview of the performances and programs of the South Street Dance Company. The audiovisual materials in this collection provide a vibrant and detailed view of the Company’s performances, so anyone wishing to study the choreography of Ellen Forman will be gratified by this collection. In addition to traditional performances, Ellen Forman and the Company developed community outreach programs, teaching dance to schoolchildren and the elderly. This collection is an excellent resource for anyone interested in civic participation in the arts, and community-building around artistic endeavor. Ellen Forman greatly admired Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), considered by many to be the creator of modern dance. This collection contains many materials related to Ellen Forman’s Isadora Duncan tribute performances.
The collection is organized into five series: “Series I. Administrative records, 1969-1991,” “Series II. Performances and projects, 1972-1990,” “Series III. Photographs, 1974-1990,” “Series IV. Audiovisual materials, 1969-1991,” and “Series V. Costumes and props, undated.”
“Series I. Administrative records, 1969-1991” includes financial records, correspondence, clippings and press materials, and Board minutes. Folders are arranged alphabetically by subject.
“Series II. Performances and projects, 1972-1990” includes clippings and reviews, flyers, programs, and assorted materials related to particular performances and projects. A significant amount of the documentation relates to the “body/language: other/voices” program, a dance residency for high school students. The folders are arranged chronologically by performance date.
“Series III. Photographs, 1974-1990” are mostly photographs from performances and rehearsals. It is arranged alphabetically by performance when known, and otherwise chronologically. Most photographs are unidentified, but an on-site inventory provides more information on some photographs (and a full listing of photographs in the “Memorial Concert Exhibit photographs” folder).
“Series IV. Audiovisual materials, 1969-1991” is divided into five subseries based on format: “Subseries a. ½ inch VHS, 1984-1991,” “Subseries b. ¾ inch VHS, 1983-1984,” “Subseries c. Film reels, 1976 and undated,” “Subseries d. Reel to reel audio tapes, 1969-1989,” and “Subseries e. Slides, undated.”
“Subseries a. ½ inch VHS, 1984-1991” offers footage of performances, rehearsals, and press materials. “Subseries b. ¾ inch VHS, 1983-1984” documents performances and rehearsals. Videos are in numerical order corresponding to an inventory available on-site, but it is not as detailed for the ¾ inch format. There is a detailed inventory describing the specific content of the videos available on-site, at Temple University. “Subseries c. Film reels, 1976 and undated” houses films of rehearsals of the show “Concord Cafeteria,” as well as what is probably a copy of a 1902 black and white film of Isadora Duncan dancing. “Subseries d. Reel to reel audio tapes, 1969-1989” contains mostly 7” reels, with some 5” and 10” reels. The bulk is music for performances and projects, with some radio interviews. “Subseries e. Slides, undated” consists of three carousels of slides of Isadora Duncan, probably used for Forman’s Isadora Duncan tribute performances and lectures.
“Series V. Costumes and props, undated” contains eleven dresses, a tuxedo, wigs, masks, and other props used in South Street Dance Company performances. It includes a three foot tall puppet used by Forman as her alter-ego in the show “Dolly & Nel.”
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- Temple University Libraries Special Collections Research Center
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
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This collection is open for research use.
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