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, November 22, 2011

Curing the Concussion...Or is the Concussion the Cure?

Head injuries are a funny thing.

In a way, they halt every aspect of your life (no reading, no TV, no concentrating on a computer screen, no physical activity), allowing you nothing but time to think. On the other hand, even heavy thought is discouraged as you mend! Unfortunately, this brain never stops. And given the extra time, I found myself overflowing with new insights on choreography, artistry, business, and life.

Day 1 - The Injury
After a beautiful morning of graceful, yet exhilarating lifts during rehearsal (not Luminarium), I found myself falling backwards to the ground, with a resounding thud as my head (and only my head) collided with the floor. An unfortunate, and purely accidental, slip.

Fast-forward to a few hours later at work, feeling and looking violently ill, and joking about having a concussion. Still, I was so determined to see Trisha Brown at the ICA with Kim that I figured I'd tough it out and take the T. It was worth the hassle. Such a wonderful performance space, complete with a view of Boston Harbor behind the stage. (Though I must admit that both Kim and I had the same reaction to the performance: Beautiful movement, furstrating choreography. For a complete and excellently-articulated account of the performance, check out Kim's blog post HERE.) Little did I know this was the last hoorah for my now fully-concussed brain.

Day 4 - The Diagnosis
So, yes, it shamefully took me four days to realize that a concussion doesn't simply hit you hard then get better with time. Monday night brought a painfully slow visit at the ER, some scans, and some good news: Concussion, yes; Severe damage, no. And thus began my recommended treatment of turning off my brain and staring at the wall.

Day 6 - The Reclaiming...
...of my life! Finally! It is amazing how little time I devote to taking care of myself in certain aspects. By Day 6, I was handed a decent amount of energy and the inspiration to clean everything. Organized my files, cleaned the apartment, and when all was done and boredom began to sink back in...out came the Christmas decorations.

Those who explored Paris with me might recognize this
candy-tin-turned-candle-holder from one of the city's
most delightful little chocolate shops!

Snowflake time with the roommate!
Plus a gorgeous pink Gerber daisy from Russo's.

Katie's fun little tree from TJMaxx. Meanwhile, I'd just
brought home a real tree for the living room. Perfect.

"I'm making a winter wonderland in the kitchen," I texted to my poor roommate, as I pulled out the hammer and fairy lights, "How good are you at making paper snowflakes?" Now, I'm no Kaitlin McCarthy, Queen of Intricate Snowflakes (ranging from Christmas tree flakes to Manora flakes), but seeing as our skylight began like this...

And now looks like this...

I think it's coming together rather nicely.

Day 12 - The Present
It's been a week and a half since the fall, and in many ways I am grateful for the sudden, forced speedbump in my hectic routine. It served as a chance for me to separate myself from all electronics, paperwork and (dare I say it) even dance. It gave me a moment to breathe, to reflect, to reorganize, and--most importantly--to reconnect with many friends over the phone and in person. However, I'm not what I normally am. I'm not the tireless, multi-tasking machine that I was two weeks ago. Even Kim has commented on how strange it is to witness me in such a spacey/sleepy state of being. In fact, in many ways I'm feeling like the cupcakes I made tonight:

Friday shook me up, left me feeling disjointed and wobbly...

And by now, while whole again, I still don't feel completely like myself. I seem to be missing the flair that is Merli...

mmmm... Tasty Lemon cupcakes.
But what's missing?

Ah ha!

That's what I'm looking for. Well, it seems my cupcakes are more energetic than I am at the moment, but give me another week or two, and hopefully I'll be crazy, colorful, and concussion-free, too.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It all comes back to family.

It's official. Luminarium's 2011 Season has come to a close. And with the completion of its first year end show (Y.E.S.) came a bit of a post-show depression for me today. I couldn't help it! All those endorphins and adrenaline leaving my body... It's tough to pull it together. But thanks to a persistent boyfriend and some nudging from Kim, I seem to be back on track.

Looking back over the year, one could professionally summarize our 2011 prime moments as:
  • Movement at the Mills, Boston Center for the Arts
  • Co-Founders Speak at “Crafting a Life in the Arts,” Mount Holyoke College
  • Kickstarter Countdown and World Premiere, The Dance Complex
  • MHC Commencement Concert, Mount Holyoke College
  • LEAP: Leading & Engaging Artistic Pursuits, Cambridge YMCA Theatre
  • Dance for World Community Festival, Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre
  • IN SYNC/Sambandh ~ Japan Fundraiser, Williston Theater
  • Dancers Among Us, Jordan Matter Photography
  • Sponsor Benefit Gala, AKA Bistro of Lincoln
  • Seacoast Fringe Festival, Portsmouth NH
  • Memento Mori, Mobius Alternative Arts Center
  • Year End Show, Green Street Studios
     And yet, the moments that accompanied these accomplishments are the ones I hope to never forget:
    • Screaming on the phone with Kim after receiving our first performance invitation...at the BCA, no less!
    • Staying with Kim in Mount Holyoke's fanciest hotel, while converting their washcloths into makeshift toothbrushes, having BOTH forgotten to bring one.
    • The 40+ takes it took to make our Kickstarter film, due sneaky interventions from a certain little dog...
    • Working with children and a talented costume designer to create a fantastic 15-foot-long piece of artwork that doubled as a skirt!
    • 1) Forging a makeshift tent at the DWC Festival out of found materials, safety pins, an umbrella and plastic wrap. 2) Bracing ourselves against the legs of said tent every ten minutes when the wind picked up and turned it into a sail. 3) Seeing the look on Mark's face, having left him in charge of the crazy hovercraft tent for just fifteen minutes, and now finding everything soaked and Mark looking pummeled/dazed/confused.
    • Presenting Luminarium's repertoire along side Nataraj Dancers...the other company that has meant so much to me.
    • Pick axes, and a fun movie night.
    • Feeling a debilitating pain in my side at the Gala, being told I was just nervous to give a speech to all of our sponsors, and later being diagnosed with a kidney stone....who knew!
    • Having my face bashed in by one of our more dynamic dancers, who then handed me a cold apple to roll across my swollen nose.
    • Staying up til 5am in Portsmouth, jabbing bobby pins and a wedding ring into an apple wearing a tiny top hat and declaring him Mayor Macintosh of the Autumn Fair.
    • Dancing in truly the TINIEST gallery space imaginable, and gracing just a single painting with our presence.
    • Creating a brand new piece in 4 rehearsals over two and a half weeks...technically 5.5 hours, though several were only there for half of it...getting puchy with Kim by the end of the last rehearsal, and deciding to have our dancers create their own live soundscore with funny noises to accompany their movements...nearly hacking up a lung every time I saw the piece from this moment on. SUCH a fantastic little new work, with six of our most humorously-talented dancers.
    • Receiving flowers from the cast. Didn't expect it. Meant so much.

    So why the title of this post? Well, after reflecting on a year of hard work, beautiful presentation, and meaningful bonding, it's clear to me that the company Kim and I started in 2010 is now more than an assembly of talented dancers. It's a family, and a strong one at that.

    But the main reason I feel that it all comes back to family, is that it does literally come back to me each time I perform or face another challenge, just how encouraging and instrumental to my work my family has been. As I put away my costumes last night, it struck me as symbolic that I began Luminarium's year with fabric from my mom, and ended it with fabric from my dad. In March, my breathing installation in Movement at the Mills at the BCA was centered around my mom's beautiful and artistic collection of fabric quarters (to someday be used in a quilt). It started the year off to a wonderfully colorful start. Eight months later, having gone through nearly a dozen white shirts in you have hands, too? (due to be written on with sharpies during each performance), I found myself in need of one last shirt. By perfect chance, my dad had just the shirt I needed, heading to the scrap bin. So for my very last performance in the very last show of our season, I wore another piece of fabric from my family.

    The breathing installation at Movement at the Mills in March.
    you have hands, too? at Green Street Studios in November.
    Photo by Steph Hodge Photography.

    And as a final "It all comes back to family" remark: A special note of thanks must go out to my brother, for being such a positive influence on my work as a comedian/artist. J-Dag, you are my toughest critic. You tell me when something doesn't strike you, and you're honest when you would've taken it in a different direction. As the funniest person I know, it was so wonderful to receive such high praise from you after this last performance.

    So much love to Kim, my company, my family, and the one man in the world who keeps me sane. It all comes back to you.