Long before statistics and news, murder ballads were a staple of European folk songs and traveled here with immigrants. Dylan, Joan Baez and a lot of Appalachian singers sung them. One of the most famous in the 1950s was “Tom Dooley.” But I remember hearing somewhere along the way, “Oh, listen to my story, I'll tell you no lies, How John Lewis did murder poor little Omie Wise.” It’s the folktale of the early 19th Century murder of Naomi Wise. You can hear the tune and others deconstructed in Bryce Dessner’s original score, Murder Ballades, recorded by Eighth Blackbird. Resident choreographer of New York City Ballet, Justin Peck set his 2013 work of the same name on Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project. It was one of three Philadelphia premieres on Annenberg Center Live’s winter dance series opener last weekend that introduced Millepied’s stellar company to Philadelphia.
Julia Eichten and Morgan Lugo in Justin Peck's “Murder Ballades.” Photograph by Laurent Philippe