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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

As Midnight Meets the Morning Glory

You don't have to be an artist to feel that you are frequently faced with conflicts. Obstacles present unforeseen opportunities for a shift in one's current path, while forcing us to re-evaluate just how much our current paths mean to us, as we try to jump these hurdles to continue down the road. There are always moments of questioning, be it through life choices, artistic choices, or matters within ourselves, but with this questioning inevitably comes new answers, or at the very least...new thought.

It's night time in Concord. The world is asleep; I am heading to dinner with family, then a dance with friends. The past two weeks have been physically and mentally strenuous, balancing work and Luminarium, while trading in sleep for more time to work on grant proposals with Kim. And yet, over the last ten days, some of the most memorable moments took place in that same dark black: Bonding with company members late at night on the streets of Portsmouth, driving home at midnight after an incredible play (windows down and music up), finishing Luminarium's latest grant proposals by the blue light of a computer screen, dancing with friends in Peterborough in a hall brimming with laughter and music, and seeing this...tucked away, nearly out of sight against the garage door of my family's home:

A morning glory. A beautiful, brilliant blue morning glory bursting forth through the panes of the heavy garage door. Unbelievable! How this graceful little plant made it is both a mystery and the perfect example of overcoming an obstacle. Having taken root on the far side of the building, the plant apparently crept its way inside the roof, taking care to loop its way intricately across the back inner wall of the garage before lacing itself through the wheels of some old bikes mounted there, and ultimately poked its vines back towards the sun through the tiniest of cracks in the center window pane (having fulfilled its curiosity of the dark-lit room through which it wandered).

What wonderful little monster of a plant, popping out where least expected, taking the long, windy road, rather than the short one around the corner. It was such a comically beautiful sight, seeing this single, proud flower blooming towards a black sky with its companions peering through the glass from inside... It has defeated everything: the garage, the window, and even its name. There's no "morning" in this glory. Just a plant with a mission and a meeting with Midnight.

This week, as yet another fork in the road beckons me, as an obstacle makes me challenge my current direction and the possibility of new ones ahead, I will do my best to attack it like my little monster plant: I will accept the challenge, take on the adventure, and break away towards something new...that is, all while keeping my roots firmly in place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

365 days, and so many thoughts with each...


Beautifully, emotionally, physically, mentally... Excitingly overwhelmed.

That is how I have felt for the last five days, and as I sit here in what some would call the "wee hours of the morning," it's just another late night full of progress and frustrations as Kim and I pace ourselves to finish six grants over the next two days, to promote our show in four weeks, and to prepare for Memento Mori in just 10 days. There is always something Luminarium in nature keeping my brain churning long into the night. But tonight, it is time to reflect on the last five days, as I force myself back into reality.

Thursday, Oct. 6
Dress Rehearsal for the Seacoast Fringe Festival. Finally, a chance to put everything together (lights, costumes, props, choreography) and begin to unify as a group. The evening was wild with fast-paced corrections, adjustments, and timings. Somewhere in the middle I found myself completely caught off guard as an early birthday cake emerged and my sneaky dancers presented me with one of the most creatively constructed cards I've ever received in my 24 birthdays. What a surprise! After a long week of hard work, it was difficult not to be sentimental at such a kind gesture. At the time I made a mental note of how wonderful it is that we are in many ways a family. Little did I know just how true this would be over the next few days.

Fast forward to an hour after rehearsal when Kim and I received the news that her grandfather has passed. Exhausted and distracted by the daunting task of taking our company on tour in a little over 24 hours, we both sort of stood there in a bit of a daze. In the calmness of that moment, I couldn't believe the beauty of his timing. As a performer in Kim's new work Agonia, based on her emotional ties to her grandfather and his gradual departure to cancer, I had become very attached to the piece. Just a few hours earlier, I had poured myself into the role of a femme fatale, pulling the final ribbon from Mark's chest in (what I have interpreted as) an oddly tender, yet menacing manner. The piece felt so smooth, so solid, so beautifully alive with Kim's lighting breathing and exhaling across the dancers throughout the piece, it seemed only appropriate to receive the news that it was, indeed, complete.

It's not my piece, and I will in no way claim that experience to be solely my own, but there was a beauty about it that not only lingered with me for the rest of the weekend, but that added a new level of sincerity to the performance of the piece from all of us involved.

Friday, October 7
My birthday. Over-worked, and over-tired, it was an emotional day preparing for the big trip, and reflecting back on birthday #23, half of which was spent teching for Luminarium's debut performance FRACTURE.

Me! On my birthday in 2010,
excitedly preparing for our very first show.
Photo by Christina Pong.
How funny to think that the eve of my company's debut in 2010 would sync up perfectly with the eve of Luminarium's New Hampshire debut. I cannot begin to process just how much we have all accomplished in literally 365 days. It is truly remarkable, and I can only hope that birthday #25 will be celebrated on some other continent on the eve of our international debut.

Saturday, October 8 & Sunday, October 9
The fun begins. I am so pleased with how this weekend went. It not only gave us the chance to wander the fun and quirky streets of Portsmouth, but it forced us to really get to know one another. Good news; we all still like each other, too! No small feat for a group of 10 dancers, 2 directors and a handful of wonderfully supportive family and significant others joining us. Of course there were the typical moments of panic...The hour-long wait for a "20-minute" pizza delivery before our show...The sinking feeling of realizing the space is arranged in a completely different manner than planned on...The quick fixes involving the creative rearranging of bookshelves to create a makeshift wing...The hostile nature of a true curmudgeonous old man keeping guard over his carpets... But these things are only to be expected.

Meghan and Adam dancing in the streets of Portsmouth.
Photo by Amy Mastrangelo.

We hit the streets, connected with other performers, gained the interest of nearly a dozen Boston natives up north for the Columbus Day weekend, and enjoyed a fun night out on the town. We artists are funny people; we can be shockingly deep and focused on stage, and lively and downright silly off of it. Thank goodness for that balance!

One of the most enjoyable moments of the trip for several of us was when we stumbled across a water fountain with eight pillars circling it. We spent a few hours on those pillars throughout the weekend, moving in response to passersby shouting numbers 1 through 7. It was so wonderful to react to the children shouting, and so amusing to watch them begin quietly and shyly, then boldly, then downright sassily with directions such as "The square route of 4!" (to which I, being #2, responded with a sassy gesture and stare at the now bashfully giggling little boy on his father's shoulders). Take a peek here!

Monday, October 10
Having returned home, and worked a more than full day at work, the arts struck me one last time this weekend as I viewed New Rep' opening night of Collected Stories. An exceptional play, masterfully directed and intricately set, with two actresses who gradually begin to feel like old friends from afar. Having just spent the past four days colliding with emotions of pride, satisfaction, frustration, sadness, calming synchronicity, excitement, and the ever-present awareness of Where was I one year ago? and Where will I be one year from now?, this play struck me in a way it hadn't when reading it in my room late at night during my first week on the job. Subtleties of the characters' relationships spoke to me in ways I was little expecting, and comforted me in ways I needed most. The lighting, the set, the stage all entwined to create an absolutely believable world. Funny, that I found myself entering yet another world of non-reality, after Thursday and Friday's stress and numbness escaped to a world of joy, excitement, and artistry over the weekend.

It's hard to come back. Hard to focus on the grant proposals due in two days time. Hard to focus on the behind-the-scenes flurry that surrounds every great production. And yet, I know that on a crisp fall day in 2012, gathering birthday cards from relatives off my porch, I'll be looking back at this moment and just shaking my head with a smile....as I fly off in my hover car, and head to the newly constructed Luminarium Dance Center that our million dollar grant provided us.

you have hands, too?
Photo by Amy Mastrangelo.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

And the good news just keeps coming in...

Some wonderful news for followers not only of Luminarium Dance Company's work, but of my own work as an artist. Just five days ago, Kim informed me of a wonderful opportunity to present our work in Mobius' upcoming performance and art event entitled Memento Mori. For those unaware, Mobius is a well-known name in the Boston/Cambridge community. They are a collective of visual artists, musicians, poets, performers...all that is artistic, you name it! Mobius is a well-established group who used to have a home in the South End, but recently moved to 55 Norfolk Street in Cambridge (Not far from the Dance Complex).

Memento mori, Latin for “Remember your Mortality” has provided inspiration for artists for centuries.  Even in the twenty-first century, ways of coping with the shadow of death continues to haunt aesthetic imaginations.

We are currently seeking submissions and proposals for a performance and art event that explore the theme of mortality, mourning, remembrance, and memory.   This event will take place at the Mobius Alternative Arts Space in Cambridge, MA from October 20 to 24. 

With only 4 days until the submission deadline, Kim and I scrambled! Fortunately, I already had two works ready to submit: Casting Shadows, Tearing Holes, which premiered in Luminarium's debut concert in October 2010 and was later performed in Nataraj Dancers' IN SYNC: Sambandh (a performance remembering the devastation in Japan) in June 2011; and my film What seems so is transition, created back in 2009 as I headed out of Mount Holyoke College.

Kim had the good chance of also having relevant work to present. She has most recently been putting her choreographic energy towards a wonderful new piece dealing with one's mortality. As one of the serpentine, sultry, yet deadly, women in the piece, it has been a moving experience to become so involved in such an emotionally-driven new work.

Now, just one day after submitting our work, I'm happy to announce that we are three for three! All three works have been selected to be shown just three weeks from now. A wonderful success for Luminarium, and a personal goal reached for myself, as What seems so is transition has always been a favorite of mine, but has not yet had its opportunity to be shown professionally.

Below are the photos, and film stills I submitted with my application. It is an eye-opening experience to be asked to submit five photos of one's past work. It makes an artist stop and think, "Where do I begin?" and "What do I include?"

More details on the performance times and dates to come. Until then, it is time to focus on performing at the Seacoast Fringe Festival this weekend...and somewhere in between, remembering to turn 24! :)