A Greater Boston native, I'm a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. I'm co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), art director of Art New England magazine, senior contributor for The Arts Fuse, and am the Boston area dance critic for the international Fjord Review. I recently completed a one-year term as co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Council, and am regularly hired as an arts advocate to speak at events ranging from legislative assemblies at the State House to entrepreneurial panels for students at Mount Holyoke College. This blog serves as a behind-the-scenes peek into the life and journal of an interdisciplinary artist. Learn more at merliguerra.com or luminariumdance.org, and thank you for reading my thoughts on setting the visual and performing arts into motion.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The "Art" of Learning to Cook!

This entry, while not as artistically driven as my others, is an homage to Kaitlin McCarthy: an artist on the dance floor, and as anyone who's read her blog knows, an artist in the kitchen as well. So here's to passing on the sweet success of my most recent breakthrough as a chef...

Pesto & Cream Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts
(Keep in mind, I eyeballed everything based off of several recipes, so don't take these measurements too literally!)
Two Chicken Breasts
About 1 1/2 - 2 Tablespoons of Pesto
2 Ounces of Cream Cheese (Less or more depending on your love of pesto over cream cheese.)
Pepper to Taste
Bread Crumbs
Parmesan Cheese
One Egg

Setting the Recipe into Motion...
1. Make a butterfly cut in the chicken. I had no idea what that meant, so I just sliced up the back, then sliced horizontally inside to make a pouch in each piece.
2. Combine the pepper, cream cheese and pesto in a bowl.
3. Stuff each chicken breast, pressing the chicken together when finished.
4. Beat the egg, and prepare a plate of bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese mixed together.
5. Dip the chicken into the egg, holding it together, then lay it in
the crumbs/parmesan to make a crust before putting it in a baking dish.
6. Cook for 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

I chose to serve it with Near East's 5-Minute Couscous (garlic and oil...very tasty), along with a light salad. I was shocked at how easy it was, and even more shocked at how delicious! As I gradually build confidence in the kitchen, I hope to pass on some little recipes I find easy and fun, so feel free to send some good ones my way to try too!

Dance: The First Steps

This post is a moment of reflection, both on what makes kids want to dance now and on what made me want to dance back in the day. Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting my various dance classes in their school shows and at the Cambridge Performance Project Spring Show. Honestly, I was far more nervous than my kids, and was relieved by the positive responses I received from the audience, my coworkers, and most importantly: my students. After months of demanding work, on my part, to engage these kids in the arts, it was music to my ears to hear "When are we going up again?" after finishing our piece on stage.

(My students fidgeting before the show.)
For more photos, check out the other professional photos taken and posted HERE on the Cambridge Chronicle website!

Often when I teach my kids, I find myself thinking back to when I first began dancing. Many of my students are younger than I was when I first began taking classes, but dancing and classes do not necessarily have to to go hand-in-hand. I still remember leaping from circle to circle on our old orangey-gold oriental carpet. I remember dressing up in beads and tutus, and twirling around. Even more strongly, I remember the beat of Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley playing as I grooved, maybe 3 or 4 at the oldest.

(Photo stolen from Jamie Simcoe)

When I think about the fact that I reached a point when I felt the urge to stop pursuing dance, a decision based purely on the insecurities I felt as the only serious student in a group of silly girls, yet also the pressures of a strict no-love atmosphere, I want to do all I can to be the one to steer these kids into a lifestyle that includes the arts. If it wasn't for Jean D'Urbano, her positive reenforcement, her constantly challenging combinations, and her stories of life as a professional dancer, I don't think I would have necessarily made dance the center of my being the way it is now. I'm no Jean D'Urbano! But I do hope that I can make an impact on the students I teach. Being sure of one's movements and one's body are so important as one enters adolescence and adulthood, so if nothing else, let them move through life with grace!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kickstarter Countdown & World Premiere!

This morning I awoke to this amazing gift outside my door! I'm ignoring the possibility that this could be meant as sarcasm, and am instead embracing the success of Luminarium's latest event and successful fundraising campaign. At least I know the company member I live with (K. Louise Layman) seems happy with how things are going.

For those of you following the Luminarium madness that took place over the last two weeks, you can surely appreciate the amount of energy that went into our fundraiser. Together, as of midnight of last night, the company surpassed its goal by raising $2,100! We are all thrilled, and celebrated in a number of ways. The most exciting being the creation of our new Luminarium T-Shirts:

Don't forget that if you donated over $75 to our cause, you have won yourself a FREE first-edition T-Shirt. For everyone else, you can purchase them for a mere $20. Just contact me, Kim or any of the Luminarium company members for the softest, most stylish tee you'll ever wear. (Above: Front of Teal Design)

(Back of Navy Design: A Luminarium Light Plot)

(Back of Teal | Front of Navy)

Our fundraiser for Luminarium's work with underprivileged children in the Boston community, along with our President's Innovation Fund grant through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, will allow us to produce a show in late May that incorporates the art and choreography of students at the Jordan Boys & Girls Club in Chelsea with our own professional material. We have already begun working with them, and are excited to continue. (More on that to come in a later post.)

Last night was an exciting event, marking the world premiere of Luminarium's film Everything But Blue, performed throughout Boston and it's neighboring towns during 20 degree weather in November of 2010. The event offered audience members the opportunity to purchase our new shirts, collect prizes for donating through our kickstarter campaign, view footage of our past shows, laugh at our kickstarter blooper reel, and ultimately see our film. It was an exciting night for the company, which was heightened by the unexpected turnout from Mount Holyoke College! As alumnae of MHC, Kim, Louise and I were thrilled to have the support and presence of Jess, Jen, Meagan, Michelle, Hannah, and Caitlin straight from the Valley! Many thanks to you, ladies, for making the night that much more special. (And don't forget to notice the star of our blooper reel and Luminarium's muse: Twyla Juniper Lollipop posing for the camera with the rest of us!)

For more information on Luminarium's past and upcoming events, visit www.LuminariumDance.org. For behind-the-scenes stories, check out our new blog at luminariumdance.blogspot.com. We'll be posting the videos shown at last night's event later this weekend, so be sure to check it and show it to your friends!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

"No Holds Barred" and an Artistic Epiphany.

Yesterday I visited the New England Quilt Museum with my mom and our neighbor Linda. It was the final day of the No Holds Barred exhibit, and we were fortunate to attend.

The exhibit was beautiful, and was comprised of an array of artistic contemporary quilts, all complementary in style. One of my favorites is shown above: Daybreak by Ann Brauer. Though called "daybreak," I couldn't help but envision the many sunsets over Buzzards Bay I've seen with Ted over the past year. It's difficult to see in this photo, but the quilt had one single strip of cloth colored the bright yellow-gold of the sun, while all the other colors seemed to react around it, just like the sun fading into waves at nightfall. A beautiful piece, and one full of movement.

Viewing the quilts in yesterday's exhibit, I became overwhelmed with the desire to create. For some time now, I have been working on producing a piece in which surreal landscapes are projected onto a cloth on the floor, as a dancer (or possibly a group of dancers) performs a solo interacting with the image on the ground. For this project, the audience would view the performance from above. Looking at today's quilts, I realized that projecting quilted landscapes (whether literal in imagery or abstract) would be the perfect medium. My concept is to bring texture and 3-dimensionality to the light shining on the dancer, and what better way to do this than to project images of tactile art quilts onto the performer below.

I am not yet sure what the final result of the project will be. Certainly, I image setting up an outdoor balcony from which audience members can view the piece from above, as if looking into a fish bowl. On the other hand, I have forever been fascinated by the movement quality and imaginative settings of Stacey Steer's Phantom Canyon (seen below).

As a result, I often picture this project as culminating with a film in which the performer becomes a central character, following a subtle narrative. For this, I would prefer to work with each frame individually, to produce a halted movement quality similar to Phantom Canyon, and thus making the dancer appear to be a character within a children's book, rather than simply moving at a normal pace. My aim is for the surreal to become reality.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The balancing act.

Having just read Kim's latest entry about life's ups and downs, I find that I am often in the same predicament: Feeling as though every minute of every hour holds a new high, or an equally new low. It's exhausting, and yet it's also what makes me feel alive, even on the days when all I want is to do is be quiet and no one. Thanks to technology, we are constantly connected, for better or for worse, and our days are packed from the moment we rush out the door to work, til the wee hours of the morning as we work on our computers in the dark. It simply never ends.

I set up this blog as a forum for my thoughts (and others') on the arts. Yet as I sit here working away, I find that my viewpoint has shifted. Suddenly the scent of hot tea on my desk becomes art. I can feel it physically calming me, which makes me think that somewhere in the mess of paperwork scattered on top of my desk, there's still a glimmer of artistry in my movements and my actions, even this late into the night.

Earlier this week, I had my first ballet recital with my little ballerinas. They were adorable, proud of their movements and their accomplishments, and gave me a very fulfilling evening. I wish I had photos to share. It's not often, when dressing up, that I feel underdressed in comparison to my students, but they really did sparkle! The event was an unexpected "high" in a somewhat stressful and "low" week, as I work to piece together my currently many part-time jobs.

In other news, Luminarium is doing tremendously well. We just launched our new kickstarter campaign (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ldc/performing-arts-project-bringing-art-to-underserve) and are thrilled to have nearly reached the half-way point to our goal. The company will have a small blurb coming out in the next Mount Holyoke College Alumnae Magazine, and we're busy preparing for shows. Check out a piece of our latest work below:

It has been so wonderful to choreograph with Kim on this piece. So far, the movement is fun, upbeat and humorous. Our dancers are excited and engaged with the work, and I am finally performing in one of our own pieces! A very exciting project for me. As you can see from the material above, we are having a lot of fun in the rehearsal process, too.

So this entry is a little scattered. Boiled down, I'd say it's good now and again to see the art in a simple mug of tea, to appreciate our interconnectedness through technology but not abuse it, and to make art that is joyful, fun, and just plain ballerina-sparkly to lighten the mood.