Welcome...

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, December 29, 2012

Real Life Re-Synching

A lot of my artwork has involved projecting images onto myself and finding a way to blend in, at times with my own image. The idea of toying with which one is "real" vs "imposed" has kept me visually and mentally captivated for years.

Sadly (or perhaps not sadly) returning home from India this past week, I felt for the first time that I was living inside this artistic paradox emotionally. The trip offered me a chance to find myself again, unhindered by any of the stresses (or joys) of home. Early on it became clear to me that I would not want to leave, and sure enough it was a struggle to accept that I was back in Boston on a Thursday afternoon as if nothing had changed. Same car, same roads, same apartment, same job, same artistic focus...the only thing not the same was me!

For days I felt as though I was living inside one of my films. Trying to line up my body with the projected version set into motion before I left. Trying to feel at home in a place that felt imposed. And feeling a little panic as the week wore on and that feeling of estrangement began to dissipate. What if I don't want to sync back up with the projection? What if I want to reshape it, recolor it... Why is it so difficult to hold onto that feeling of pure escape?

While the film I feel most captivates my re-synching sensation is my award-winning art film Synchronic, it is this experimental short I will share instead, as it shows the same feeling on a less complex/dramatic level.



To create this piece, I filmed my room during the day for 46 minutes, then projected that scene onto the same exact space later that evening. I then entered the film, reliving those 46 minutes, moving in slow motion. It was very trying to complete and took a great deal of patience (and surprisingly enough, stamina) to focus on my slowed motions for what felt like an eternity. To finish, I sped the film up to regular speed, creating a faux world in which the space is falsely daylight and the character's regular motions are offset by her quickened breathing.

In a nutshell, I have been gradually emerging from a world like this since leaving the airport earlier this week, and while it feels calmer to be breathing at the right pace again, I hope I haven't completely lost that restless character I so identified with upon returning home.

Reflective moment of reintegration aside, beautiful stories and photos of my tour to India are certainly coming soon...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Famous? Just a touch. (Part 1)

This post will be brief. A moment to take in all that is unfolding around me, and focus on just one of the many threads weaving in and out of my life every day of every week leading up to the end of 2012:

"Calling to You"
India Tour 2012

As I sit here typing, all the vaccinations needed for India are wreaking havoc on my body, so I'm taking a day to let them play, and will go back to work tomorrow. Right now I'm enjoying a condensed version of the flu--what will happen when the polio kicks in??

A few weeks ago, I marked a year since joining Deborah Abel Dance Company. This weekend I'll be celebrating "Concussion Day!" as my friends and I affectionately refer to the anniversary of a small drop on the head leading to 8 weeks of recovery. (8 weeks that in retrospect, I honestly think I needed.) In March, we performed this show with such intensity, fullness, and depth that I couldn't really imagine bringing it back to that state for the tour this December, but now that we're less than 4 weeks away, I am confident we'll not only match, but surpass the production we debuted in Boston.

And here is the transformation in visual form:

Calling to You - Duet with Joe Gonzales, March 2012
Photo by Liza Voll
The above photo is among my favorites from March. It depicts the very end of my duet with Joe, and it so beautifully embodies the emotions Deborah asked us to portray. A genuine reunion of our two characters: Prema and Viveka.


Fast forward to now: Check it out! Deborah Abel Dance Company's NEW logo, featured on the company's T-shirts, and spearheading our fundraiser for India. How cool! 

It's wonderful to view this moment of the production transcribed into lines, and a somewhat tingly experience to glance at it the first time and recognize pieces of it as myself. Famous? Just a touch. But mostly, it is beautiful to watch aspects of the March production melt down and reshape itself to join us on our adventure to India, and this new chapter of the production as we move forward.

If you are interested in learning more about the production, and to see some video footage of myself and the rest of the cast in March, I encourage you to take a peek at the company's current Kickstarter page.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Young, yes, but legitimate.

Ever since mastering the use of scissors and crayons in preschool (which jumped me ahead a year to kindergarten), I've heard "Wow, but you're so young!"

It's a phrase that made me feel good when I had those scissoring techniques down, when all the other kids in my new class were already five and I was still a four-year-old bumpkin. It's a phrase I dreaded when my orthodontia kicked in early (even earlier than my older friends) and I found myself pioneering the retainer and braces front. But then again, it was a phrase I basked in when it seemed the entire school had metal mouths, and I now had a perfectly straight, perfectly white smile!

I'm sure there must be a driving force that comes with being the youngest in your grade. Maybe it's partially why I've pushed myself as hard as a I always have. Then again, it always gave me a safety net (that I luckily have never had to use): allowing me an out if ever I found myself behind.

Why am I stuck on age? Well, frankly, Luminarium has been experiencing a lot of the same obstacles and successes while also receiving the phrase "Wow, but you're so young!"

But this week, I (we) feel both young and legitimate.

Let's take a look at the past seven days, just seven, and see what a typical week is now like for Luminarium and its two co-directors. On Wednesday, we performed outdoors in a garden, as visitors gathered for a lecture on healing at The Children's Room in Arlington, Mass. A wonderful experience! Thursday brought a three-hour rehearsal for Luminarium's first commissioned work, to be performed through a brief residency at Ithaca College in October. Friday brought various paperwork, emails, and preparation for upcoming events. Saturday brought a day of dancing, with Lumi Parent #1 bringing one dancer out to Western Mass for an early tech, and Lumi Parent #2 playing taxi for our second dancer after a rehearsal later in the day. Once reunited, we found ourselves sitting in the ever-familiar Bowker auditorium in Amherst, as one of eight companies chosen for this year's Mass Dance Festival: Professional Company Gala Performance. Sunday brought a day of separation, then an evening of busy planning for our impending lecture. On Monday, Kim and I spoke as professional artists at the Arsenal Center for the Arts (more on this below), and Tuesday was spent fielding emails, forging connections, thanking presenters, cataloging files, and--what's this??--preparing for GRANT season!

Wow...but we're so young...

A Sampling of My Work:
6 Milestone Pieces in 5 Years
Presented at text & conText on September 24, 2012
Yet as Kim and I each took our turn standing at the podium on Monday night, with images of our work appearing larger than life behind us on the screen, I finally found myself believing for the first time Young, yes, but legitimate.

Here we were--each choosing to speak about six of our milestone works, and the progression of thought and artistry between them--presenting a body of work. This wasn't a post-show talkback, speaking only about the choreography immediately on the tip of our tongues. This presentation took careful thought in its preparation. In my own process leading up to Monday, I found myself giving particular attention not only to the work I chose to speak about, but what the work spoke about me. Choosing six works out of a collection of projects felt easy. It was simple to look back and think Of all my work, which ones jump out in my mind as the most memorable, for myself? The hard part came in connecting the dots of progression, yet beautiful to realize that there was a progression! Still, the most shocking moment for me came when I heard myself begin with "In 2008, I created my first film."

...2008??? Could that be right? But it must have been right, because my next piece was made in 2009. Which led to 2010. Then a new approach in 2011. Ending with my most recent work in 2012. Five years worth of work? Somehow, that alone is what made me leave the Arsenal Center for the Arts on Monday night thinking Young, yes, but legitimate.

Slides from the lecture (my half):

Synchronic
Film Still
2008

Synchronic
 Film Still
2008

Synchronic
Film Still
2008

What seems so is transition
 Film Still
2009

What seems so is transition
Film Still
2009

What seems so is transition (live)
Photo by Christina Pong
2010 Re-adaptation

Casting Shadows, Tearing Holes
 2010

Untitled Breathing Installation
2011

Emergence (Phase 2 of Untitled Breathing Installation)
Photo by Liza Voll
2011

Seirēn 
Photo by Ryan Carollo
2012

Seirēn 
Photo by Ryan Carollo
2012

Seirēn 
Photo by Jim Coleman
2012

Andromeda
"Before"
Sketch by Julia Wagner
2012

Andromeda"After"
Photo by Julia Wagner
2012

Andromeda
Lightbulb Placement and Movement Testing
2012

Andromeda
The Final Product
Photo by Kimberleigh A. Holman
2012

One final thought to end... Monday night was a beautiful, positive, encouraging, and reaffirming experience not only for myself as an artist, but for Kim, too. And as she experienced her own moment of legitimacy at the podium (I'm sure she has her own take on what this feeling was!), I found myself listening to and watching (for the first time since starting Luminarium) a completely independent artist. An artist whose mind is nearly always playing a game of creativity tag with my own, yet in this one moment, I felt pleasantly separated from my partner in crime. We feel so comfortable around one another that Monday finally offered me the chance to view her from the outside perspective. Here was this beautiful young woman speaking eloquently and humorously about her artistic decisions, insights, and intrigues, all leading up to this incredible dance company she'd started, and all I could think was how impressed I was.

And if that isn't an example of our legitimacy as artists, then I eagerly await the moment of discovering it.

Luminarium
Photo by Shane Godfrey Photography


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Climbing inside the snow globe...

Last week I found myself with the unique opportunity to interact with my work in a way I never have. In every production Luminarium presents, I pride myself on knowing the intricacies of my work well. I feel every rhythm, every musical cue, every facial expression… I find myself falling into sync with the performers as I watch them from backstage. But the one thing I have never felt (in a group piece, particularly) is the ability to perform the work on the spot. Did I choreograph it? Yes! Do I know the reasons behind each movement choice? Certainly. Do I remember it? Not at all. I am by far a dancer who relies on muscle memory to perform—and if I set a piece, then spend weeks on the outside tweaking, editing, rearranging, it is the dancers who grow through my movement and not myself. I am no longer the expert when it comes to how a pose feels before rolling into the ground—they are.


So back to this unique opportunity: I have performed my own work before, many times, but always with one or two rehearsals in advance. I’ve allowed myself the time it takes to gather my senses, get up from the director/audience’s chair, and climb onstage to see the piece from the side I originally worked. I have always had the opportunity to ask my dancers how they feel as I integrate myself (am I moving too quickly, is my spacing correct, am I holding anyone back), and I have felt confidently assimilated by the time of the performance.

And then came this week.

With a dancer badly injured, and the sudden realization that I would have to both perform and continue to direct with Kim (thanks goodness there’s two of us!), I found myself with no time for review or rehearsal before tech night. Seirēn is a piece of co-dependence, be it through physical partnering or emotional relationships onstage. The dancers have become so beautifully fine-tuned in their approaches to the work, that I found myself without time to catch up. So on late Wednesday night when we chose to perform a full run of the show, I suddenly found myself mounting my partner in the darkness backstage, completely unaware how the piece now looked from inside it.

What it felt like to perform Seirēn from Luminarium's
MYTHOS:PATHOS, beautifully captured by Jim Coleman.
What an EXPERIENCE!

It was like staring at a snow globe for weeks, letting the sight of it calm you in its familiarity, only to suddenly find yourself transported inside. I have never once felt this so intensely while performing my own work. The dancers, who were all performing at their fullest in presence and emotion, seemed to swirl around me with true intent. When “battling” the sailors, I felt both the sinister attraction I had choreographed, but also a new-found feeling of self-preservation as I was continuously pushed away. I found empathy in a character I created to have none. I found joy in moments I had perceived as dark and cold. And beyond all else, I found a world that undeniably exists when the house lights darken and my dancers leave the wing.

The rest of the weekend went smoothly, and I gradually chose which of these emotions I would work with while performing, but none of the nights felt like the first. That moment of pure integration through immediate assimilation. 

l. to r. - Amy Mastrangelo, Jess Chang, Rose Abramoff, and
Merli V. Guerra performing Seirēn from Luminarium's MYTHOS:PATHOS.
Photo by Jim Coleman.
It makes me wonder if this is a technique to be used: To chose at random a dancer to replace during the rehearsal process to better understand the emotions that can arise when “living” the piece, rather than performing. Because what I learned on Wednesday night had nothing to do with the turns, the falls, the lifts… This experience simply allowed me to genuinely experience this character from a fresh, unrehearsed perspective. And I am so grateful.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Kindness & Curiosity

Take a second -- right now -- to stop and think about the interactions you've had throughout your day. Did you joke with the person handing you your lunch? Run into an acquaintance and say a quick hello? How many hours did you interact with friends, coworkers, kids?

Now take a moment to consider how many people you passed today without a single interaction. How many people sat on the bus beside you? How many neighbors did you pass by without a wave? How many interactions could you have had...but didn't?

We are all so knee-deep in thought -- so confined by our schedules -- there are many missed opportunities for interaction. Yet, thanks to seven lightbulbs, some wooden dowels and a bra, my daily quota of interactions has tripled, while introducing me to such a wonderful world of strangers. Let me explain...

 

Recently, the creation of my Andromeda solo has taken up much of my time. Above is an image taken early on in the process. (More images on the evolution of Andromeda to come at a later date.)  Over time, it gradually became this:

 

A geometric dome of wood, watts, and wires emerges from a pewter bra. As a costume, it is stunning. As lighting for the soloist, it is essential. As a cacophony of visual art, lighting design, and costuming, sitting in the back seat of my car, or protruding awkwardly from under my arm as I carry it down the street, it is THE single greatest conversation-starter I have ever encountered.

And what a joy it's been! The number of times I've had someone rush to get the door for me, the people who have stopped me on the street to ask about it, the dance peers who marvel at its design, the little kids who do a double take and give me a sheepish grin of delight when I turn it on for them... It has been such a wonderful adventure to experience those around me in a fleeting, but heart-felt moment. One of my favorites was the time I found myself juggling a bag of postcards, and the contraption, with a huge dance festival to my right (I was not headed there) and a car eyeing my parking spot. After waving them on, they insisted on pulling up to me. Awkwardly gathering my things, I apologized "Oh sorry, not leaving, there might be a spot further up if you're here for the festival." "No no no," says the older couple inside, "We want to know where YOU'RE going." ....at which point I chucked a handful of postcards through the window and waddled off in delight with Andromeda feeling a little less weighted on my shoulders than usual.

Tonight, I enjoyed a lovely conversation with two neighbors I've really never met, as they helped me wrangle it out of the car, and I imagine that next week (when it once again emerges for rehearsal) I will be granted yet another tiny interaction with someone new.

So here it is. My post on kindness and curiosity. You could take away from this that it is disappointing how few moments we experience with others, but I'd rather you take away this: If you see someone wearing cute shoes, tell them! If you notice someone juggling too many things, grab the door. And if you see some wacky Boston artist (an interdisciplinary artist at that -- they're the worst!) trying to act normal while parading down the street with a bundle of bulbs, ask her where's she's going.

(Then go see her show: MYTHOS:PATHOS - 8/31, 9/1, 9/2 - Watertown - www.luminariumdance.org/buy-tickets)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Marbles on a quiet floor

One week ago, I attended the funeral of a very dear friend. It was the second death close to home this year, and as synchronicity will have it, it was the death of the first (a completely unrelated loss) back in February that prompted me to take a day off from work, and to drive out to visit Meg.

Meg was sharp, witty, brilliant, and gleaming every day I knew her. Even as her body failed her, her mind and soul stayed true beyond comprehension. I am so grateful to have known this woman; to have laughed with her, told her about my latest projects, watched her try to set me up with the young men jogging by her window, and compared our latest Target jewelry finds together. When we were little, my brother and I would spend hours rearranging her jar of glass marbles into colorful patterns gleaming across the quiet beige carpet. I'd love to see those marbles again.

It was that last visit, the one prompted by the loss of another, that turned out to be my last. Valentine's Day of 2012. But it was the visit before that my mind continues to wander to. Ted and I went apple picking out in Northboro specifically to then visit Meg (No more talk of cute boys jogging by the window now that Meg had met Ted!). After picking too many to legally leave the farm with, I sneakily hid the prettiest ones in my scarf, and snuck them to Meg. As I pulled apples from my scarf, she told me (in her fashion-savvy manner) how much she loved it. "Well, when I perform in India, I'll bring you a scarf like this for your 96th birthday," I told her. "But I'm turning 95 in February, not 96!" was the reply. "Oh, I'm aware, Meg. But I'm not going until December of 2012, so you'll have to stick around for another year to get this scarf, ok?"

I guess there's a piece of me that really thought she would. And yet, it's a strange thing when a friend dies at the age of 95. It feels both natural and impossible to process all at the same time. It feels natural that she's moved on, and yet I can't shake the feeling that she's just a phone call away.

Kim suggested that during my trip to India, I find a scarf for Meg. It's a promise I made, and a promise I'd like to keep, so I think it's good advice to follow through. Perhaps then I can find true closure.

Below are is a series I made in college--a project Professor Karin Stack called "Postcards from Home." Now, more than ever, I am so thrilled to have them. Now that this house, these things, and these people (Meg and Bob) are now gone, but the sentiments do remain.

This post is lovingly dedicated to the Marsden family, and to all the joyous memories I have of my beautiful friend Meg on Old Marlboro Rd.






Monday, June 4, 2012

Three Months, Nine Photos, One Direction: Forward

Life has a way of pushing itself to a speed just faster than your own. A race? Not necessarily. But we all have moments when we pause at the top of the road to look back down the hill at all of the events that have unfolded within a certain stretch of highway.

Below is a journey in photographs marking my most favorite adventures since March. A brief look at the marks in the pavement behind me as I keep traveling forward.

March
Luminarium Photoshoot
Shane Godfrey Photography
As March emerged, so did I! Pulling myself out of the darkness I'd crawled into during my weeks of head-trauma recovery. The first weekend provided a 12-hour (yes, literally) photoshoot for Luminarium. A bonding experience with Kim (as if we need more of those), and a chance to meet a gifted photographer, Shane Godfrey.

A bright flower enjoying the unexpected hot summer air in my room...in March!
The end of March brought with it an unexpected stroke of heat--a dash of summer in the dead of winter. With my concussion finally beat and my body (and mind) pushing itself back into shape, this wave of warmth was an all too welcome aid.

"Calling to You" - Deborah Abel Dance Company
Duet with Joe Gonzales
Liza Voll Photography
The big week: Tech tech tech, then the first and final Boston performances of Calling to You... or will it be? A beautiful production, wonderful musicians, inspiring choreography, and dancers I trust and admire.

April

April truly flew by. I don't believe it had a full 30 days this year, yet some of its days also felt like 2 in one! Confusing? Yes. But let me give you an example of one day in mid-April.

 Kim picks me up at 8am. Thank goodness we decide to swing by Starbucks (little did I know that would be my only food for the day: A slice of banana bread and a grande passionfruit iced tea), as we race across state to speak at a Senior Seminar at our Alma Mater, Mount Holyoke College. One fantastic class later, we spend a moment or two chatting with some past professors before my phone rings. Can I shift my interview with the Concord Journal up an hour? Sure! Kim, get in the car!!

"Merli Guerra, a native of Concord, will be performing a dance
at the Orchard House on May 27 during Orchard House’s
centennial celebration in Concord." - The Concord Journal
We race back across state with enough time to change cars, send Kim off to her job, and me off to an interview with the Concord Journal about my "Celebration of Preservation" Project, funded by a grant through the Concord Cultural Council, presenting new work with Luminarium on the grounds of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House in May. Didn't catch the article when Luminarium promoted it? Well, here it is!
To Turnquist, the project is a perfect blending of so many things that are important to her personally and to the mission of the Orchard House.

“The Alcotts were very creative people,” she said. “They loved music and painting. Visual arts and performing arts were equally important to them. Merli is taking that creative energy and applying that to a home now beloved by millions of people all over the world. It’s a wonderful convergence.”
- Kim Hooper, The Concord Journal
May

Matt Johnson & Amyko Ishizaki rehearsing the
"Celebration of Preservation" Project
Most of May was spent keeping up the pace with rehearsals for my upcoming show in Concord, which involved sifting through 44 recordings, creatively forging a stage, borrowing sound equipment, and (of course) finishing the movement!

Boston in the Rain...
bostinno.com
In the middle of the month, I found myself sick with a cold and greeted with a last-minute text from nationally-acclaimed Jordan Matter of the Dancers Among Us project. A more detailed post to come on this later, but within a few hours, Joe and I found ourselves leg-deep in the Boston Gardens duck and goose infested pond. Delightful! Hanging upside down, soaked by the rain pouring down, but encouraged by the photographer on shore giving us direction, I couldn't decide if it was stranger to feel my head dunking in and out of the dirty Boston water, or to feel my makeup dripping upward as the rain rolled down my face! A fantastic experience that, oddly enough, seemed to shake my cold. Looking forward to seeing the final image...

A face-painted family watches the performance unfold.
Concord, Mass.
Finally, the month ended with a healthy dose of beautiful weather and an exceptional turnout at the Centennial Celebration of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House. Everything came together beautifully. I could not have been happier with the performances. More on this event to appear on this blog soon, but for now, view videos and photos on the Luminarium blog instead.

The end of the day. Leaving Boston behind
as I head to the Cape for Memorial Day.
I don't care about the holiday.
I don't care about the destination.
I just care about the people I'll be with,
and the moment when I'll stop driving and just close my eyes.
So there it is. My past three months in the review mirror, as I keep heading...well...somewhere even better!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A few things give me pause: space

There are a few things in this world that particularly never cease to intrigue me emotionally, physically, psychologically, and artistically: Glass, light, water, and space are among them. Tonight I found myself focused on the last.

I think everyone has a moment when they stop to contemplate where they were in their lives the last time they entered a space. Perhaps it's as large a gap as revisiting one's childhood home, or as subtle as contemplating just how many times you've walked by a certain store week after week. Whatever the moment, it is an awakening experience to realize that a "past self" has stood in the same space you now occupy; to compare who you were in that moment with the person you are now.

Driving down Mass Ave in Lexington tonight, I found myself connecting the dots--retracing the breadcrumbs left by my own past selves. I first passed the site of Vinny T's, a high school favorite and a chance to feel like an adult while ordering too much Italian food for our budgets. Fast-forward five years to June 24, 2010. Kim and I meet to discuss the possibility of putting together our own dance company, or maybe just a single show (I mean, who knows how to start a dance company). I invite her to the restaurant I know so well, and as we yank on the permanently sealed door, I realize the restaurant I once thought of as my meeting place is now closed for good. We try various venues and eventually whip out our notebooks while sitting in the window of the local Starbucks across the street. Fast-forward again to February 17, 2012. I'm sitting next door, also in the window, meeting with members of a new dance company I am a part of (in addition to my own now established company, of course) to bear the loss of another dancer in the group.

Fast-forward one more time to tonight. I am sitting in traffic, stopped in time. To my left is the space where the restaurant was; to my right are the two windows of Starbucks and Nourish. I am suddenly struck by the intense proximity of the two, not even ten feet apart, sitting there side by side like two windows into another part of my life. It's moments like this when I can almost see myself sitting in one window laughing with an old friend, completely unaware of the dance adventures awaiting us, and in the other, at a very different point in my life, deeply saddened, but surrounded by people I love and never knew existed when I sat next door two years before.

It reminds me of my fascination with the old black and white Time Machine movie. How it boggled my mind that his machine never moved forward physically, but that all of these different cultures could occupy the same space within different times.

One final realization as the clock strikes 3am... Luminarium's season is now underway, and so far both of the pieces I've presented this year have dealt with this very concept (What seems so is transition (live) and the Celebration of Preservation Project). Why is it so present in my mind?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

As bodies, lights, and melodies blur into motion...

After allowing myself a full 48 hours to digest all of the post-show emotions that came with this weekend's production (Calling To You by the Deborah Abel Dance Company, Music by Lee Perlman), I feel it's time to put to words a few thoughts before life carries me away to the next project.

One of the things I've found most striking since the concert is the full realization that the production I witnessed and now fondly remember is a very different performance than what met the eyes of the audience. This is not said to belittle the experience of the viewers, but rather to emphasize the beauty of the experience I was given each day. The audience sees a finished, polished product. They feed off the energy of the dancers, set, lights, and music. They take it in, just as the rest of us do, but what they see is controlled by the boundaries of the wings and the acoustics of the space.

This is what I see:


In fact, what I "see" isn't so different as a performer backstage, so really, it's what I feel. I feel the sting of the sharp lights, the heat of the air onstage as it hovers in the wings. I feel the pulse of the live music, the audible rhythmic breathing of the dancers onstage. I feel the anxious energy of the performers across from me in the opposite wings, adjusting their costumes, bouncing, settling to watch, then turning their minds back to their upcoming duets. I feel the squeaking of feet across marley, and the relief of a piece well executed as darkened bodies exit the audience's world and re-enter mine. It is such a deeply moving experience, and at the same time, one that I often don't allow myself to enjoy, as I prepare for my own moment in the lights.


So while I look forward to seeing the footage of this performance, and the photos taken the night before, I am currently most grateful for these images to remind me of the production in its most beautiful and raw form. The talent of the other dancers, musicians, and designers involved in this production still astounds me, and I consider myself so fortunate to have been given the chance to work alongside them since October.




And now that 48 hours have come and gone, now that my brain and body have had a moment to relax, I'm no longer asking myself how I will fill this void, because I'm realizing it isn't a void at all. The end of this performance didn't leave a hole in my life the way I thought it would, leaving me anxious to fill it with the many other things on my plate. Instead, I've chosen to view this work, this world we've created and shared with 744 viewers and counting, as an ongoing entity that will continue to exist until the next time we come together, regroup, recharge, and re-emerge. With a tour to India on the horizon, the eloquent and encouraging feedback from Ambassador Rao, the multitudes of heart-felt comments from this Boston audience, and our own ongoing artistic energy, there really isn't any way for this creation to "end" even for a moment!


Finally, my favorite image:

Deborah Abel, watching her company perform the Sadhu piece,
as bodies, lights, and melodies blur into motion.


 To learn more about this production, or to donate to the company's trip to India, please visit www.deborahabeldance.com.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

A simple post.

A simple post for tonight. A few thoughts before throwing myself head-first into another hectic week full of show openings, rehearsals, photoshoots, and teaching.

During my concussion, I found myself with a heightened awareness of all the things in my life that I care about and enjoy...the sites around me, the projects I've taken on, the people I interact with... When I was finally able to drive into the city for my Luminarium rehearsals again, allowing my regular routine to take shape, I counted myself lucky to have that weekly ritual back in my life. Each week, I began taking photos of the city, trying to capture that specialness I'd found in it, having freshly returned to it; and each week I promised myself I'd post some photos on this blog, and write a short entry on the importance of taking in everything around us.

One week led to two, and before I knew it, it would be the sudden death of a fellow dancer that would hurtle me back into that frame of mind: That constant heightened awareness of every sound, sight, smell, touch, taste surrounding me. But even then, one week led to two, and now I'm sitting here with a couple of blurry images, and little left to write.

So I'll simply sum up my insights and emotions in a brief description of my affection for my Thursday night routine:



What I love: I love what I do after hours. I love that a new world unfolds as I race home from work, throw mismatched dance clothes into my bag and grab my ipod with my newly arranged playlist for class/rehearsal. I love that I know exactly which red light to stop at and make a call to my favorite Thai place for a quick bite to eat. I love the way Central Square welcomes me in the winter, as I drive under its beautiful dancing Christmas lights. I love pulling into the parking garage a block from the studio, knowing I'll run into Kim (coffee in hand) by the Thai place, or even just leaving the garage. I love walking into the studio, but first leaving my shoes and my other lives at the door. And I love working, engaging, and creating with such a diversely inspiring group of dancers.

It's not enough to "get through" the day. Even on the bad ones, it's important to remember how beautiful it is to feel. Whether it's the weight of a heavy chest, or the headache that comes from too much laughter. It's our own choreographed dance that we perform each week, so why not enjoy every minute we have on the stage?

And I love saying goodnight to the woman at the parking garage. She always gives me a smile...even when I'm bailing out Kim for being 40 cents short.  ;)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where does your story begin?

A few weeks back, I posted an entry with sketches of a female soloist, a geodome of wire and hanging lightbulbs hovering over her, and the lines of her body visible through a skin-tight veil of costuming. It seems whenever I begin an artistically-driven project, I always start with an image. At the time of my post, I didn't have much more than those sketches to work off of--that, and the idea of having this figure awaken, with her movement and the pulsing of the lightbulbs glowing as one.

Since then, Kim and I have hurtled ourselves into an excitingly creative world of contemporary takes on Greek mythology. Between her sculptural piece stemming from Green urns, and my group piece exploring the Sirens, we began to realize that the second half of Luminarium's year will be...in a word...epic. With mythology as our guide, I began to research how my soloist would somehow fit into all of this, and was thrilled to find such a perfect match:

Andromeda by Edward Poynter

Andromeda.

She's the perfect match. A quick synopsis of the story will tell you that she was once the beautiful daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, and that her mother's vanity led to her peril. Cassiopeia bragged that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids--angering Poseidon who began destroying the city with floods. Andromeda was chained, naked, to the coast as a sacrifice to the sea monster Cetus. Luckily the heroic Perseus, back from slaying Medusa the Gorgon, killed the monster, while asking for the girl's hand in marriage. Although already promised to Phineus, the wedding took place, during which Perseus turned Phineus to stone. The story ends with Athena placing Andromeda among the stars in the northern sky. (And, as the daughter of an astronomer, I couldn't help but be reminded of the constellation and galaxy named after her!)

All in all, not the easiest life for Andromeda.

After reading and re-reading numerous accounts of this woman's life, it seems the same key moments continue to be pronounced as "her story." But for my solo with the woman laden with lights, I'd like to pick up her story from the supposed end: From awaking among the stars.

Andromeda chained to a rock, depicted in the Uranographia of Johann Bode (1801).
http://www.ianridpath.com/startales/andromeda.htm

We know the events of Andromeda's life, but do we know her perceptions of them and the emotions that drove her? What was her take on the key life-changing moments of her life...all decided by those around her, rather than herself? It's a daunting task, but I'd like to use this solo as an opportunity for this character to evolve past the ever-popular myth, and instead, to enter a realm of personal reflection. And all the while, as the lights pulse around her, she will regain a new awareness of her body and existence as a constellation in the sky.

But the question of where to begin one's life story doesn't only pertain to this piece and this character. It pertains to each of us. I'd be a liar if I swore I'd never had thoughts (hopeful ambitions, really) of someone, someday, writing a biography about my artistic achievements...a documentary, perhaps. Will my future accomplishments merit this? Who knows! Even then, will someone take the time to write about them? Probably not! But occasionally, in my moments of frustration (or even in my moments of success and clarity), I wonder: Where would they begin my story? Is there something I will do in the next decade that will set me apart from other artists and gain me artistic respect in the community? Or have I already begun? Will "Luminarium" be a name the press will grow to recognize? And if so, will they bother researching our first concert in their articles? Or will they simply skip ahead to a milestone we have yet to reach?

The truth is, I have no idea. But I do have curiosity. And somewhere between the two is where I'll begin my work on the Andromeda solo.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A meadow starred with flowers...

A few milestones to begin.

Concussion free since 1/13!
After slippin' and slidin' for a while, I have finally pulled myself out the cave of concussion land. It turns out everyone's right: It takes time, patience and healing, but one day you wake up feeling fine, and after a while you realize you've kept feeling fine. I am so thrilled to feel like myself again. For eight weeks it felt like I was focusing an old lens, and finally I'm crystal clear!

Funding a dream...
This past Tuesday, Luminarium turned one and a half. Crazy how fast they grow up! After joking with Kim that the painful teething period of applying for grants back in October was finally over, sure enough, here come the baby teeth: 4 grants from 4 Local Cultural Councils! Concord, Watertown, Somerville and Boston. When I step back and compare where we were one year ago, I am thrilled by how far we've come. At the same time, last year's LCC apps weren't very strong for us. We were new, with only one show under our belt as a company. This year's applications we submitted felt very strong, which made these four successes such a positive reinforcement: We finally feel "real."

The Concord grant will go towards my Celebration of Preservation project for Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House centennial festivities in May (more on this another day). The Boston grant generously funds our general programming throughout the season. Most exciting, though, are the Watertown and Somerville grants, that will allow us to present installation work using found objects from the community, integrated with beautiful, intricately-lit contemporary dance.

New-found inspiration
My last post chronicled the inner workings of a new solo, one of many pieces involving light and movement that will come together with our installation work in Watertown and Somerville later this year. However, within the last 48 hours, my group piece has become a stronger presence in my mind and in my sketchbook than the solo. I won't fight it. Instead I'll allow the ebb and flow of inspiration to pull me closer to the choreography with time. But for now, some thoughts on the sextet:

For months now, I've been describing to Kim my need to create a piece with six dancers, emerging into the space on each other's shoulders as three tall, beautiful creatures. I've experimented with this in rehearsals, and we've found a very solid form of transportation that allows the dancer above to hover a light over the dancer below. At first, the light shines on just the feet of the walking dancer, then travels up to illuminate the face. By revealing the full body of the dancer in the light, we reveal also that he/she is not alone. I also described my urge to work with long, gossamer sleeves, allowing the lights to glow in their hands.

Without skipping a beat in our board meeting, Kim wisely summed it up as: "That image reminds me of the Sirens."

Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper

...YES! That's exactly it! After researching images of the Sirens, I am so excited to have found a link between the images and emotions I sought to explore in this piece. (Thanks, Kim!) Included here are some of my favorite images, and ironically many of the images I found depict the Sirens as flying over their victims, or peering down at them from above; mimicking my original concept of having one dancer hover over another in space.

The Siren by John William Waterhouse

I am so freshly inspired, having found this resemblance between my current work and this series of imagery from the past. Physically, I see the hovering, the entanglement, the sinking, and the seduction.

The Fisherman and The Siren by Knut Ekwall

My question to myself now is: Are these three pairs of dancers 3 sirens, themselves? Or do they suspend and divide...come together and grow apart. Do they unite, then collapse into a smooth and somber inner struggle? I guess we'll have to see...

Unknown Seas by Norman Lindsay
Odysseus and the Sirens - Pottery
We must steer clear of the Sirens, their enchanting song,
their meadow starred with flowers...