"She was always onto something new," said Adele Magner, a friend for 20 years. "She was always looking for the next one, always on the brink of discovery, which is why this is so especially painful, because she was, in so many ways, at the height of her career and her life. It's very tragic.
"She was very interested in breaking the barriers down between the artistic forms and to incorporate elements of language into dance," Magner said. "At the time when she was doing it, it wasn't done at all. It was very unusual to hear a dancer speak or act."
Mrs. Forman gained renown in her early pieces in feminist dance and, later, in interdisciplinary approaches to the art.
In recent years, she was striving to revive the dance techniques of Isadora Duncan, a flamboyant, free spirit who was a pivotal figure in the history of U.S. dance. Duncan was killed in 1927 when her trademark scarf became entangled in the wheel of a convertible sports car.
"Ellen, who gave so much attention to Isadora, to die by an automobile is a little scary," said Judith Stein, a curator at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. "She was a bright, vibrant, energetic woman who had a great love of dance and was able to communicate that to a broad audience."
Her favorite audiences were children and young adults. She performed for and with them in programs throughout the region.
"She did more than probably any artist in the city to acquaint young people with dance," said Magner.
Mrs. Forman was born Ellen Lynn Stieglitz in New York City. She graduated
from Brooklyn College with a degree in English and went to the University of Wisconsin as a Fulbright scholar, where she received a graduate degree in English. She also studied dance at both schools.
She had been involved in creative dance theater professionally since 1972. In 1974, she co-founded the South Street Dance Company.
In 1980, she began touring in a one-woman "moving" theater and, in 1986, she founded an organization that produces works combining dance, theater and the visual arts.
This year, she founded a similar program for Philadelphia high school students.
Her work has won national recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts and from numerous regional arts programs and trusts. She also had been awarded choreography fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts.
She is survived by her husband, Edward; sons, Eric and Evan; a sister, Mimi Stieglitz; three nephews, and a niece.
Services had been tentatively scheduled for tomorrow afternoon under the arrangements of Goldsteins' Funeral Home, 6410 N. Broad St. The time and location had not been set last night.