Presented by Piedmont Opera

We Performed Again! (virtually)
Artistic Director, Gary Taylor, premiered his latest work in “From Appalachia”, set to composer Ken Frazelle’s folk songs, live streamed from the Stevens Center October 16 & 18, 2020
“It’s been a wonderful journey.” And so, choreographer Gary Taylor offers enthusiastic insight into his new ballet.

“From Appalachia”, Act Two of Piedmont Opera’s “Echos from Carolina” premiered Gary Taylor’s latest original choreographic work, set to the music of composer Kenneth Frazelle, performed by WSFB dancers, Emily Apple, Alex Cooney, Nicholas Franco, Elizabeth Fowle, India Green, Ryan Taylor, and Rohima Ward.

Learn more by visiting Piedmont Opera

Thoughts and insights about “From Appalachia”

From Gary Taylor, Artistic Director
Gary comments about his latest WSFB collaboration with Piedmont Opera (Video by Gary Taylor)

Photos by Gary Taylor Photography



“It’s been a wonderful journey.” And so, choreographer Gary Taylor offers enthusiastic insight into his new ballet “From Appalachia,” which is set to nine excerpts from Kenneth Frazelle’s Appalachian Songbooks 1 and 2. The ballet — presented by the Piedmont Opera

Performing musicians included soprano Jodi Burns and tenor James Allbritten, accompanied by pianist P. G. Hazard…

Taylor continues. “Kenneth’s work revealed an intriguing insight into the Appalachian folklore. The ballads became an outline for me to start creating complete stories before I could set the choreography, and to be able to give a full character analysis to dancers so they could understand their motivation in each piece. During this process, I thought of the description, American “Grimm” (on relationships). Then wonderful rich stories leapt from the page and onto the dance floor — tales of sadness and yearning, joy, lighthearted moments, and dark stories that felt as if their true message whispered in an inner voice too dark to say out loud. I loved working with these rich reflections…and I am honored to have the opportunity to interpret the works into dance.”

“I’m thrilled,” notes Frazelle, “about Piedmont Opera’s collaboration with the Winston-Salem Festival Ballet on “From Appalachia.” Never did I dream that my folk-song settings would make it into the theater as fully choreographed works. It’s as though the stories come alive through movement, lighting, sets, and singers. The timeless messages of lost love, hardship, and human connection are especially poignant during these challenging months. It’s beautiful to be collaborating again, even while masked and safe distanced!”

EXCERPT FROM VOIX DE ARTS PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Echoes from Carolina — Carlisle Floyd’s SLOW DUSK and Kenneth Frazelle’s FROM APPALACHIA

An invaluable product of this concentration on the melodic fecundity of Appalachian music is Frazelle’s Appalachian Songbook project, excerpts from which appealed to Allbritten as a partner for Slow Dusk in Piedmont Opera’s Echoes from Carolina. Structured in nine episodes, each drawing its subject matter from a folk song, From Appalachia allied Frazelle’s musical treatments of the songs with choreography by Winston-Salem Festival Ballet founder and artistic director Gary Taylor. Responding instinctively to the rhythms of the music, Taylor devised patterns of movement that gave each dance its own atmosphere, to which Festival Ballet’s dancers—Emily Apple, Alexandra Cooney, Elizabeth Fowle, Nicholas Franco, India Green, Ryan Taylor, and Rohima Ward—effortlessly adapted their motions. Taylor’s choreography elucidated the songs’ subtexts, limning the vestiges of melancholy perceptible in even the most whimsical songs.

Wielding his robust tenor voice in From Appalachia, Allbritten was joined by pianist PG Hazard and soprano Jodi Burns, beloved by Piedmont Opera audiences for her portrayals of Anna Sørensen in Kevin Puts’s Silent Night and Donizetti’s Adina in L’elisir d’amore and Maria Stuarda. Like Taylor’s choreography, Hazard’s pianism reverberated with the unique pulse of each song, beginning with an account of ‘In East Virginny’ in which she supplied singers and dancers with a tonal stage upon which to animate the vibrant musical portrait of life in Appalachia. The contrasting moods of ‘Charmin’ Birdy’ and ‘Fly Around, My Pretty Little Miss’ were subtly differentiated by the dancers, whose steps coincided with the cadences of the words.

The pensiveness of Allbritten’s singing of ‘Bonnie Blue Eyes’ was also manifested in the choreography, which conjured a mesmerizing aura of wounded desolation. Burns and the female dancers expelled the gloom with a frolicsome performance of ‘Single Again.’ A murder ballad of the type that was popular during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries in both Appalachia and the British Isles, ‘Naomi Wise’ was choreographed by Taylor as a volatile pas de deux, danced with passion that magnified the potency of Burns’s and Allbritten’s singing. The dialogue between tenor as drunkard husband and soprano as exasperated wife in ‘Our Good Man’ was hilariously duplicated in the choregraphy, executed with particular brilliance by Ryan Taylor.

Musically, the pinnacle of From Appalachia was Frazelle’s setting of ‘The Cuckoo,’ a worthy companion to the most artful folksong arrangements by Haydn, Beethoven, and Britten that was sublimely sung by Burns and eloquently danced by her terpsichorean colleague. The jubilant ‘Sally Ann’ provided a fittingly festive finale, singers, dancers, and pianist exuberantly raising the voice of Appalachia in praise of her unshakeable culture.


Piedmont Opera, based in Winston-Salem, is one of the first opera companies in the area to explore the medium of live-streamed opera performances. Here, in a program called “Echoes from Carolina,” storytelling still took place despite the safety precautions and distancing due to the pandemic. Two small-scale yet emotionally intimate works were paired, taking advantage of the opportunities that a camera crew provides. Instead of one angle, the viewing audience had many – including closeups of the singers’ faces and multiple angles of choreography. Instead of just “making do” with this new format, Piedmont Opera took advantage to the fullest extent and set an example that, hopefully, more ensembles will follow.

Jodi Burns and James Allbritten sang “SHE” and “HE” respectively, the two nameless characters who fluidly sang each story from their places in the orchestra pit. Meanwhile, onstage, dancers from the Winston Salem Festival Ballet illustrated each scene. Choreographer/Director Gary Taylor‘s movements created a blend of upbeat, contemporary soft-shoe, and even some elements of line dancing were used at times.

Overall, there was a unique contrast of songs, with the jig-like “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” against the tragic “Naomi Wise.” In the latter performance, silk fabric was used to dramatic affect to portray the river where Naomi met her demise. Not all selections were quite as dark – “Our Good Man” aired on the humorous side, and Allbritten’s vocal characterization shone through. In contrast to much of the program, the final performance was more upbeat – “Sally Ann” gave audiences a joyful dance to close what was an effectively dark and emotional program.