The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

May 30, 2013

"Deep Water: The Murder Ballads"

Posted by kbalcerek

In 2007, E.E. Balcos and John Allemeier began interpreting three murder ballads popular in North Carolina folklore: “Poor Ellen,” “Omie Wise” and “the Ballad of Frankie Silver.”  They re-worked these ballads to produce three unique but related dance pieces with choreography and music inspired by the original ballads. These three works have been performed at various UNC Charlotte arts performances, but now, for the first time, all three will be performed together at the Knight Theater on Friday, May 31st at 8 p.m.

Dancer and Choreographer E.E. Balcos. Courtesy of UNC Charlotte Department of Dance

“Poor Ellen,” the first murder ballad reinterpreted by Balcos and Allemeier, associate professors of dance and composition respectively, depicts the murder of Ellen Smith in Winston-Salem around the 1880s. “The Ballad of Frankie Silver,” re-interpreted as “Pieces of Silver,” explores the hanging of Frankie Silver for killing her husband with an axe in 1833. This piece is choreographed for four dancers and an ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and percussion.

“Omie Wise,” re-interpreted as “Deep Water,” is a popular murder ballad familiar to many North Carolinians; it tells the story of the murder of Naomi Wise by Jonathan Lewis in Randolph County in 1808. The story was romanticized by 19th century author Braxton Craven and made more popular by the voice of Doc Watson. Balcos’ addition to this trope is not a strict interpretation of the ballad. Instead, he adds his own twist, portraying Lewis as a serial killer who murdered three women, not just Naomi Wise. The beginning of “Deep Water” is a brilliant portrayal of drowning as the three women intermittently slide across the floor in slow rhythmic motion, becoming more and more agitated until they rise up.

Friday’s performance will be danced by E.E. Balcos, Audrey Baran, Tracie Foster Chan, Melissa Jesse, Shane Lucas, Katie Matter and Elizabeth Sturgis. Shawn Smith will conduct the instrumental ensembles of Scott Christian, Tomoko Deguchi, Chris Fensom, Erinn Frechette, Sakira Harley, Mira Frisch, Reese Manceaux, John Sadak, Kristen Swanson and Jenny Topilow.

Tickets are $18 and available through Blumenthal Performing Arts.

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