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.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

...for the stars

Last Friday night, Luminarium presented LEAP: Leading & Engaging Artistic Pursuits. The show went very smoothly and received a warm and enthusiastic review from its audience. For this post, I would like to focus my thoughts on my piece ...for the stars performed by Amyko Ishizaki and accompanied by musician Robert Flax. Beautiful costuming by Meghan Boehmer, and most importantly: colorful, fun and insightful artwork contributed by 6-8 year olds at the Jordan Boys & Girls Club of Chelsea, Mass. The following images were taken by the talented Steph Hodge, found at www.stephhodge.com.

The piece begins with images of children's future careers, as they speak about their goals.

Children tell us their plans for the future; shown here are the projected drawings on the stage.

Amyko rises as the lights fade, plucks glow-in-the-dark stars from the sky, and proceeds to plant them on the ground as the children interpret the phrase "Reaching for the stars."

Amyko dances, interacting with the stars, while being serenaded from above by musician Rob Flax on violin.

Her skirt, designed in collaboration with Meghan Boehmer (who also did a wonderful job constructing it!), shows yellow taffeta on the outside, hiding 15 feet of white muslin within.

Towards the end of the piece, Amyko unravels herself across the stage, revealing more children's drawings: this time of their future dream houses. She eventually ends the piece in a sophisticated pencil skirt, having shed the layers of childhood behind her.

Creating this piece has been a largely collaborative experience, from interviewing the children for dialogue to incorporating their voices into the beautiful auditory narrative interpreted by Rob Flax, and from working with Amyko to choreograph her movements to collaborating with Meghan on a costume that would not only portray a childish Alice in Wonderland feel, but could integrate Amyko's movements and the children's drawings into it as well. It has been a piece (like most of my work!) that has evolved with each new addition to the team. With the children came context, with the dancer came embodiment, with the musician came emotion, and with the costumer came meaning.

The most heart-wrenching aspect of this piece for me, is that I originally went in to interview these kids with a preset series of questions, the most important one being "You know the phrase, 'Reaching for the stars?' Tell us in your own words what that means." To my shock, of the eight children in the room, only one seemed to recognize the phrase. All the other seven looked painfully confused, even when I prompted them with "You know, like following your dreams. Have you ever heard that?" No. They hadn't! After a series of uncomfortable moments, I worried that my plans for this piece were falling through, but coming home and re-listening to the interviews, I realized that what I had was far better than a simple response to an age-old phrase; instead, it showed children puzzling their way through and interpreting it as best they could. My favorite is the child who says "It means you're reaching for a star and you put it in your hand, and you make a wish on the star in your hand." What a beautiful interpretation! Still, it bothered me to realize just how differently I was encouraged as a child. It made me want to run around the neighborhood shouting "Tell your kids they can grow up to be anything if they just try! Make them realize they don't have to be limited by their means!!"

The Final Piece:
It is not my goal in this post to describe every moment, but rather to give my own interpretations of key moments in the piece... For instance, I begin with Amyko taking stars from the sky and placing them in a line across the ground. She plays with each, examining and interacting, as if trying out different paths and identities. Ultimately, she enters the stage space, coming into herself and acting on her own. When she finally unfurls her skirt, watching her childhood unravel behind her, she is both coming into adulthood and realizing it is time to choose. In one rehearsal I told Amyko and Rob to think of the section in which she walks down the line of stars in her pencil skirt as a moment to ignore the childhood skirt on the ground and to walk straight ahead until acknowledging each star. You might not remember all your experiences as a child, I told them, but you will definitely remember a few important goals, dreams or ambitions that carried through into adulthood. Try to make this section say that!

The piece ends with my favorite quote from our young fashion designer to-be: "I don't want to be a model just to get money. I wanna be a model so I can show who I really am, and how I really am inside, because if I can't show my fashion, then I'm not anyone." There's a lot of wisdom to be gained from these kids, and it was incredible to see a few of them after the show run up onto the stage to examine the skirt and tell me "I made this one! This is my dream house in the future." I think they're on the right track, and I thank the Boys & Girls Club, my amazing co-director Kim Holman, and the 50+ kickstarter contributors to Luminarium for making this experience available to these kids. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Spring Photographic Entry

These beautiful little buttercups still looked bright and cheery the morning after spending a day decorating my hair as I enjoyed Spring with Ted, walked around some gorgeous Falmouth gardens, and watched Ted pet a sluggish fish at the Woods Hole Aquarium. Where did they come from? Ted's wildflower-ridden backyard! (Pre-mowing)

Dandelions always make me excited:

To the garden!

Strawberry Plants (Can't wait...)

A huge asparagus

...that we ate for dinner! So tasty. Loving this season.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Returning, Commencing, Aiding, and Celebrating: Luminarium Begins its First Tour

A lot of work has been going on in the Guerra-Holman online office, and a lot of experimentation and dedication has been going in the dance studio every Thursday night. Luminarium is now heading into its first Spring Tour, preparing to spend five weeks bouncing back and fourth across the state as it presents two works in four shows. Some thoughts, and some advertisements. Please spread the word:

Returning ~

The first is the Mount Holyoke College Commencement Concert, honoring graduating seniors of the Dance Dept. The faculty has invited us back, coincidentally in time for our two-year reunion, to perform a new work for ten dancers in the beautiful new Studio Theatre. It will be an interesting experience to not only witness the final pieces of the graduating seniors who have come so far since we knew them as Freshmen, but to be returning with a full-fledged company, and a new stance in the choreographic field. I think Kim and I both have worries our professors will look at our new work and revoke our degrees! It's difficult to embrace the mentality that our work is developed enough to receive this invitation to perform and honorarium, as these are our mentors from the past, and people whose opinions we still care about. Wish us luck and creative energy as we tighten up the piece and bring it home.

Commencing ~

The seniors at MHC are not the only ones "commencing" this month. One week later, Luminarium presents the full version of our new piece, along with work inspired by and including members of the Jordan Boys & Girls Club. These children have worked hard to present their dancing and their art, and will soon have the opportunity to be included in a professionally produced dance concert. It is a beginning for all of them, but hopefully not the end any time soon.

For more information on this event and to purchase tickets, visit our facebook event or our website. Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

Aiding ~

The company will end its tour back in Western Mass to perform in Nataraj Dancer's IN SYNC / Sambandh (Together): A fundraiser for relief efforts in Japan. Many of the artists I performed with during Nataraj's Japan Tour in 2009 have been greatly affected by the earthquake, and the very town we stayed in when we first arrived (Chiba) has been forced to evacuate many of its children.

A sand dollar on the black sands of Chiba.

Monica, a Nataraj performer, and my travel buddy for the rest of my stay in Japan.

Me! Happy, jet-lagged, exhausted, but enjoying the ocean in this beautiful prefecture before our performances.

Best wishes to all of Japan for a fast recovery.

Celebrating ~

Finally, last but not least: The Gala! Luminarium is celebrating one full year since it's founding, and is doing so in high fashion and fancy cuisine. Join us for a fun night of live jazz, mingling with the company, a silent auction and more on June 26th.

I may not have my dress yet, but I think I've found shoes worthy of a summer gala...

It is amazing to think back to that summer night when Kim and I first began planning our first show... But I'll save that for another entry. Right now, it's time to head to the Cape, spend some quality time with a certain boyfriend, and look for seaglass and shells to decorate my window sills.