Hunting For Beauty in the 'Deep Water'

Three years of work and more than 100 years of North Carolina history will hit a Charlotte stage tonight.

Deep Water: The Murder Ballads follow a trio of true tales of seduction, love, and revenge based in three dances choreographed by E.E. Balcos and composed by John Allemeier. The UNC Charlotte professors based the three performances on real 19th-century murder ballads.

“There’s something so captivating about these stories,” Allemeier said. “There are parts that are like an Alfred Hitchcock whodunit. Parts are very dark, but they’re tempered with these love stories."

Murder ballads were a popular form of oral tradition in the 1800 and early 1900s, usually to tell stories of love gone awry. Some musicians still write and perform them today. Riley Baugus, raconteur and traditional American musician, will tell those stories and sing those songs on which Deep Water is based.

“Riley has such a wealth of information, and he provides an amazing back story and underpinning for the performances,” Allemeier said.

The ballads are based on Randolph County’s Omie Wise, Forsyth County’s Ellen Smith, and Burke County’s Frankie Silver. Wise and Smith were both killed by their husbands while Silver was hanged for the ax murder of her man.

Having an existing and compelling story to draw from provides a great bed to start with but not having all the information allowed Balcos some creative interpretation.

“It’s ‘based on a true story,’” he said. “We don’t know how these people moved originally or carried themselves so we’ve taken cues from the songs and extrapolated those to fill out the characters.”

The commonalities in the stories create a nice through line for the 90-minute production.

But both composer and choreographer stress these pieces aren’t about horrific murder scenes. They’re the tales of the couple’s relationships, how they fell in love and how and why it all unraveled.

“These are very dark and serious themes but there is a beauty in there. This isn't Saw,,” Allemeier said. “… These are very human stories. I think we’re so drawn to stories like these because they trigger our survival instincts and tap into something deep within our brains.”


The show opens tonight at 8 p.m. at Knight Theater. For more information or tickets visit here.

To get behind the scenes information visit the show's Tumblr blog.

Dancers for the show include: E.E. Balcos, Audrey Baran, Tracie Foster Chan, Melissa Jesse, Shane Lucas, Katie Matter, and Elizabeth Sturgis.

The instrumental ensembles include Scott Christian (percussion), Chris Fensom (trumpet), Erinn Frechette (flute), Sakira Harley (violin), Mira Frisch (cello), Reese Manceaux (saxophone), John Sadak (clarinet), Kirsten Swanson (viola), and Jenny Topilow (violin). Shawn Smith, the new Director of Bands at UNC Charlotte, will conduct.

Categories: Arts + Culture, Revue