FirstWorks and WaterFire Arts Center premier partnership on social justice-themed performance

Noted Haitian-American Composer Daniel Bernard Roumain Brings The Telling to Providence

FirstWorks and WaterFire Arts Center premier partnership on social justice-themed performance

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“This unique convergence of local-global creative forces promises to move our hearts and minds forward,” says Kathleen Pletcher, executive artistic director of FirstWorks, the Rhode Island non-profit committed to strengthening the community through the arts. She’s discussing The Telling, by renowned composer, violinist, and activist Daniel Bernard Roumain, and the first presentation in a new creative partnership between FirstWorks and WaterFire.

In the performance, artists from varied disciplines will reflect upon and respond to the forces of crisis and communion in our lives – with stories of anger, anguish, and enduring hope. The production features original compositions with instrumental solos, dance, and chamber music, all exploring the question: how can we, the living, honor the lost?

Pletcher explains how the award-winning Haitian-born artist Roumain, or DBR, was tapped to bring The Telling to the Ocean State. “For the last two years, Daniel has been the FirstWorks Artistic Ambassador. He works all over the country and has been a thought leader for classical music and racial justice – he’s an amazing musician and mind. There are a dozen different collaborators, both national and local,” adds Pletcher. “It feels like a convergence which is happening around this performance.”

Held in the main hall of the WaterFire Arts Center, The Telling is planned as an immersive experience. “We’re really looking at the space in a non-traditional way,” explains Pletcher. In terms of local collaborators, Shura Baryshnikov is doing some of the choreography and MusicWorks Collective will perform the central piece at the concert. Adds Pletcher, “We’re also fortunate to have Melvin Chen who is Deputy Director of Music at the Yale School of Music on piano. The list of collaborators is amazing and reflects Daniel’s imagination.”

For his part, Roumain explains that the performance is his response to what has happened in America over the past several years. “The title stems from this notion of telling stories. For me, as a Black person, I’ve always been curious about which stories are being told and why. I’ve been curious about my own story, my family’s story, my history, and the story of my people, the Haitian people. But I’ve also been very curious about American stories and the telling of those stories over time,” he explains.

One of Roumain’s goals is to unite communities through the arts. He describes the performance as a response to societal trauma. “We’ve seen two very clear pandemics: one involving our physical and mental health, the other focused on many conflicts in terms of social justice, climate change, and our judicial system. There are really several pandemics, several fights and struggles that are overlapping and colliding. Composers are uniquely qualified to tell stories,” says Roumain. “My work in particular is very collaborative so it’s never just about my stories – it’s really about our stories and the telling of them.” 

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