The Murder Ballad (1938)

Review by Mavis Manus

Poor Dog Group, the avant-garde performance company (most of whose members met at the California Institute of the Arts), recently revived its 2008 production of THE MURDER BALLAD at Redcat.

The provocative work is based on the music and lyrics of Jelly Roll Morton, who began his career playing piano in the bordellos in New Orleans’ red-light district. THE MURDER BALLAD came out of that period, a raw, uncensored blues song about a crime of passion committed by a black prostitute who discovered that another woman, despite warnings, was sleeping with her boyfriend. Murder was the result of that confrontation, followed by a brief trial and a long jail sentence.

The bleak, bitter tale was danced by Jessica Emmanuel and Jesse Saler, with the former taking center stage most of the time, using her tightly-controlled, tortuous movements and actions to bring all the ferocious sexuality, anger and self-loathing of the wronged woman to life. Saler, representing (I think) the primal urges of the average male, linked up sporadically with Emmanuel, but was essentially a foil to her mounting isolation and madness.

For more information about Redcat’s 2015 season, visit or call 213-237-2800. Housed in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex, Redcat is located at 631 West 2nd St.