#TBT: ABT’s Sallie Wilson in Fall River Legend

November 28, 2001

The sweltering, humid heat of a Northeastern summer can make even the most good-natured person act, well, hot-headed. This would be an understatement in describing Lizzie Borden, the woman from Fall River, Massachusetts, who allegedly hacked her parents to death with a hatchet in 1892. The case was a media sensation, and it’s no surprise that choreographer Agnes de Mille—known for portraying American themes in her ballets like Rodeo—chose the story for a stage adaptation.

Fall River Legend
premiered at American Ballet Theatre in 1948. De Mille took some artistic liberties, choosing a gruesome ending for Borden’s character. In real life, Borden was acquitted; in de Mille’s ballet she is convicted and hanged, and there’s a subplot involving her unrequited love with the town minister. In this clip, late ABT dancer Sallie Wilson plays the doomed woman and dances a short pas de deux. The character’s psychological stresses are visible in Wilson’s skilled acting: her chin is lifted aloofly, her gaze sweeps without really seeing, her fists beat, her hands reach and her dance is almost ungainly (though still fluid and technically strong). Wilson was known for her dramatic roles at ABT, and we find her Lizzie Borden interpretation particularly chilling. Happy #ThrowBackThursday!