‘Short Gems’ from Alliance for New Music-Theatre let art into our hearts

Composers and librettists create inspiring short films inspired by artworks at The Phillips.

Short Gems is a series of six digital on-line performances curated by Alliance for New Music-Theatre in response to works featured in The Phillips Collection — the country’s first museum of modern art, now in its centennial year. In 2020, Alliance for New Music-Theatre assembled six teams of composers and librettists and commissioned the series. The Alliance asked each artistic team to respond to a work of visual art that would showcase both the diversity and strengths of The Phillips Collection as well as these artists. Each Short Gem, originally intended to be performed at the Phillips, was reimaged during the pandemic to be filmed at the Phillips.

The series of Short Gems — available to view online for free — resonates with the events and conversations our nation was having in that tumultuous year. DC Metro Theater Arts contributing writer Debbie Minter Jackson reflects on the first two.

Composer/Singer Timothy Amukule  and Writer/Singer-Actor Jarrod Lee in ‘Journey to You,’ filmed in the gallery of William Christenberry photographs at The Phillips Collection. DCMTA screenshot.

Journey to You  (Now Showing)
Based on the photographs of William Christenberry
Composer and Singer: Timothy Amukule
Lyrisist/Screenwriter/Singer-Actor: Jarrod Lee

If nothing else, the pandemic has made us all stop, slow down, and look at things around us differently. A trip to the grocery store, eating out with friends, looking at art, are all steps towards reconnecting again. In Journey to You, two friends visit the Phillips Collection Art Gallery and share their reactions to the collections through songs and reflections. Composer/singer Timothy Amukule teams with buddy Jarrod Lee, writer/singer-actor, in looking at an exhibit of works by William Christenberry. There are pictures of barns, fields, and trees, and the friends sing beautiful lyrics relaying their own reactions. Through it all Lee, originally from Alabama like the artist, notes that one can find a sense of home in still moments of solitude. “Night Spot” connects them to memories of their childhood homes, “Tree” while beautiful can also be dangerous. “Kudzu and House” covers the past and makes it over, almost like it never happened. “Bloody Pond” and “Indian Mounds” are filled with meaning — what was in that water? And sacred memories and meanings must be acknowledged and respected. In one fascinating segment, the guys actually seem to playfully peek out from between the trees adding an entirely new dimension to the interaction. With majestic voices and touching reflections, Amukule and Lee go room to room admiring the elegant photographs and remind us how to pause and let art into our hearts and souls again.  (10 minutes)

Artistic Director and Lead Curator: Susan Galbraith
Executive Producer: Duane Gelderoos
Director/Editor: Patrick Hale
Director of Photography: Sergei Shauchenka

Roz White in ‘Strength to Love,’ evoking ’The Washer Woman’ panel in Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series at The Phillips Collection. DCMTA screenshot.

Strength to Love  (Now Showing)
Based on Jacob Lawrence Panel #57 from The Migration Series, “The Washer Woman”
Composed and Music Direction by S. Rene Clark
Written and Directed by Thomas W. Jones II
The Woman: Roz White
Her Son: Anthony Gonsalves
Bluesman: Dave Cole

There is simply nothing like the Jacob Lawrence exhibit at The Phillips Collection. I’ve been attending the programs and seminars there for years and even caught an interview with him and his wife in the 1990s, a life treasure. Strength to Love is another treasure that is available to any and all to savor and enjoy. Based on Jacob Lawrence Panel #57 from The Migration Series, “The Washer Woman,” the piece weaves through time when a mother and son pass a guitar-playing street performer on their way to the Phillips. There’s a quick pause at one of my favorites, Renoir’s “Boating Party” (heavenly), then she halts in front of “The Washer Woman.” Even shielded by a compliant mask, Roz White as the woman is filled with an irrepressible wonder at the image while the masterful blues guitarist, Dave Cole, strums nearby filling the mood. Suddenly, right in front of our eyes, she morphs into the washer woman in the picture, big bold primary colors in the backdrop, wash bin and clothes on the line. A narrator voices the woman’s thoughts and Roz White’s glorious vocals take over, singing of hurt, disappointment, rage while images of police brutality and lynchings fill the screen. “If my tears would wash me over,” she sings while the brutal footage displays the harsh reality of then and now. The mother and son reconnect and exit in a totally different frame of mind than when they entered. Great artistry has that effect. (17 minutes)

Director of Photography: Sergei Shauchenka
Camera Operator: Joe Colón

The series of Short Gems is available to view online for free.

Special event August 28, 2021. 2 pm: A panel exploring Jaccob Lawrence’s Struggle series in the context of his creative practice and in connection with the exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle.

Alliance for New Music-Theatre’s 2021/22 season announcent:
Six art-inspired films kick off Alliance for New Music-Theatre season

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