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.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Washing clean the mind and soul...

For days now, I've been trying to put a finger on it...

Something as simple as the daily ritual of showering can hold so much. It's how I begin each morning--entering groggy; leaving fresh and renewed, ready to take on the day. But then there are the days when I want nothing more than to shower again at the end. Suddenly this "ritual" holds an entirely other purpose: To wash away all the negativity of the day; to heat my body through to the core in an effort to expunge all tension and emotional knots. But does it really work?

Alexa Meade, Activate - 160x80 cm, Edition of 3 | 50x100 cm,
Edition of 5 | 75x37.5 cm, Edition of 7.
(An incredible artist... Check out her work at alexameade.com/artwork)

In these moments, I am reminded that each day is like a production--whether performing for others or ourselves, the time must come when the curtain closes, and we are forced in an instant to reflect. Do we feel fulfillment from a performance well-mastered? Or do we stand by the bathroom mirror, holding off wiping the makeup from our eyes, hoping for a brief encore to salvage the day?

If only water could be so cleansing as to pierce the skin and wash clean the mind and soul, as well as the body... Maybe then we could find some ease.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hitting "pause" - A successful third season

Kate Digby once choreographed a piece on students at Concord Academy's Summer Stages program that involved a fantastically frantic and well-timed chaos of dancers running on and offstage, all while tuned into their own headsets to a song we (the audience) never heard. As the piece came to its end, the shouted command of "stop" broke the silence, and all went to black as the dancers paused their iPods in sync.

This year has felt like a real life run of that piece. From start to finish, Luminarium's third season has kept Kim, myself, and our dancers running, dancing, jumping, catching, all in perfect sync with one another as we hurtled ourselves towards the finish line, and while keeping our audience members, community, and supporters pleasantly unburdened by the driving melody running day in / day out through our heads. Now, with Luminarium's final production of Secrets & Motion completed, we can finally hit "stop." ...Or at the very least, "pause."

Merli V. Guerra at the BU Performance of Secrets & Motion
Photo: Ari Adzhigirey, Courtesy of Mount Holyoke Alumnae News
Click here to view the accompanying video interview.


"It’s no secret that the LUMINARIUM DANCE COMPANY is one of the most intelligent and innovative dance troupes in Boston."
Empowering words coming from Beverly Creasey of the Boston Arts Review! Her review of our production (Poetry in Motion) is both beautifully written and rewarding to read. So, too, is Mike Hoban's review (Luminarium Closes Season with Illuminating 'Secrets & Motion'), written from the viewpoint of a self-declared non-dance viewer, and giving our production an exciting 4 Stars!

Below, then, is a compilation of press quotes about the work I created for this year's large-scale production Secrets & Motion. It was a fantastic and well-received performance, and I can only hope Kim will compile a similar list of her own, as her works were equally highlighted by the press:

Merli V. Guerra in Left is Loss (or "The Prelude")
Luminarium Dance Company's Secrets & Motion, 2013
Choreographer: Merli V. Guerra
Photo: Ryan Carollo

"Guerra gives a tour de force (both performing and choreographing), inhabiting the language of the poem, “burning” and “falling through the floorboards” so that we truly listen to the verse, not just the rhythm of the poetry, absorbing every word."

l. to r. Jennifer Roberts and Katie McGrail in Hush
Luminarium Dance Company's Secrets & Motion, 2013
Choreographer: Merli V. Guerra
Photo: Ryan Carollo

"Hush was the evening's most ambitious and surreal number, with five opaque, illuminated 3.5' x 3.5' boxes, each containing one dancer with another performing outside of each box. Each outside dancer then helped/encouraged/drew/re-animated the inside dancers out of the boxes, and it was fascinating to watch the work unfold."
"Hush" was the evening's most ambitious and surreal number, with five opaque, illuminated 3.5' x 3.5' boxes, each containing one dancer with another performing outside of each box. Each outside dancer then helped/encouraged/drew/re-animated the inside dancers out of the boxes, and it was fascinating to watch the work unfold. - See more at: http://bostoneventsinsider.com/2013/11/luminarium-closes-season-with.html#sthash.RSWpbnwr.dpuf

Jess Chang in The One I Keep
Luminarium Dance Company's Secrets & Motion, 2013
Choreographer: Merli V. Guerra
Film Still

"Special mention, too, should be made of Guerra’s ingenious video (The One I Keep) of Jess Chang awash in tiny bits of paper, snippets of sentences which fall like snow, then fly up like a swarm of insects, ending in a joyous coup de theatre with Chang savoring the last fragment…"

"A pretty brilliant video"

"[The One I Keep] reveals Guerra to be a pretty talented film maker as well. The short shows dancer Jess Chang seated in a chair with a cascade of confetti falling upward (an effect produced by reverse camera motion) and it's just really cool to watch. It was a terrific ending to the multimedia show."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review: A fanciful escape...

Despite being in the arts, day in and day out, I find there are often moments when my work becomes just that...work. Now of course, every moment I spend creating is the act of diligent work and focus, but that's not quite the type of "work" I mean.

Behind every beautifully laid-out page I design for Art New England magazine are approximately 50+ emails ranging from tracking down images to editing text and working with advertisers. And for every Luminarium Dance Company production comes literally a hundred hours (for both myself and my co-director) connecting with press, updating the website, arranging plans with the venue, designing collateral...

My point in bringing this up actually doesn't come from a place of complaint, but instead from that hidden inner voice that is sometimes made quiet when the brain takes over and trumps the heart. Every moment of the artistic process is a necessary one, but as Kim and I find ourselves in the last days leading up to yet another major production, I find myself in need of artistic balance. Where has the magical side of the artistic process run off to, as we toil away with the details of our work?

For my own need of balance (and for anyone else in need of a beautifully fanciful escape) I would like to share two artists whose work I've recently come across and deeply enjoyed. There is something so ethereal, creative, and whimsical about these images... Despite the fact that they, too, must put in their fair share of work to create them, I am grateful for the escape they provide me (the viewer), as I continue to focus on the cogs (rather than the joyful beauty) of my upcoming production.


"Conceptual Portraits" by Nicole Kennedy, Australia:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Glue-free, and toothbrush in hand.

Thursday, October 3, 2013. This was my view as I crouched inside my box onstage during the dress rehearsal for Luminarium's most note-worthy performance to date: Opening for Time Lapse Dance at the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall in Amherst MA.

Let's rewind. In April, I received a call from an important and highly influential woman in my life, though this time she reached out to me not as my Indian dance guru, but as the Director of the Asian Arts and Culture Program at UMass Amherst's Fine Arts Center. 

A few performance proposals and one roadtrip later, Kim and I found ourselves standing on the same stage where (as students) we once saw Bill T. Jones, Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham Dance Company, MOMIX, Hubbard Street, the list goes on and on. And here we were, about to join the list. 

Fast forward to October when Luminarium presented Andromeda (Guerra, 2012), whisper, rumor, rot. (Holman, 2013), and Hush (Guerra, 2013) on the main stage, with my Quilt Vignettes film series (2013) playing in the lobby. This was our largest new audience to date; 600 viewers, only a handful of whom had seen us perform before. We also had the fortunate opportunity of performing alongside Jody Sperling's Time Lapse Dance from NYC, performing in the Loie Fuller style.

Time Lapse Dance, in concert with Luminarium Dance Company, 2013.
Fine Arts Center, Amherst MA. Photo: Jim Coleman
As we find ourselves performing in these increasingly high-profile venues, and in the company of such prominent choreographers, it feels strange to be so...at ease. Three years ago, Kim and I were learning important Dance Company 101 lessons like Don't spill toxic glue on the stage you're renting--you'll never get that hundred-dollar security deposit back! and When a prestigious college puts you up in a swanky hotel as note-worthy guest lecturers...at least ONE of you needs to remember to pack a toothbrush. Now, almost three years to the day after our opening performance debut, it was no big deal--No big deal to bring multiple set pieces, equipment, costumes, and nine dancers across state. No big deal to pull the short straw with an early, brief tech; we were on our game, and it all went smoothly. No big deal to warm up onstage alongside the feature company, chatting casually, and discovering overlaps with artistic friends and connections; we had earned our spot there as well.

And perhaps that's why Kim and I found ourselves so determined to see one of the moose-crossing signs prove its worth on our long drive home in the dark that night. For once, in that whirlwind 24 hours, perhaps we were finally feeling a little unease--not because of the pressure from the prestige of the venue, but because of how smoothly everything had gone. Where was the tumultuous climax of taking that next step? (Where was our moose??)

Below are a few images taken during our tech rehearsal early in the morning--A religious experience for the Five College alums in our group, while admittedly a still-groggy one for the rest. Yet as our company continues to grow in leaps and bounds, it seems our sense of ease as we took this next big step was our moose...glue-free, and toothbrush in hand.

The beautiful UMass Fine Arts Center Concert Hall.
Kim lights us from the booth.
I play whack-a-mole inside my box onstage.

Teching for our performance with Time Lapse Dance.
UMass Fine Arts Center.
Luminarium Dance Company 2013.

Teching for our performance with Time Lapse Dance.
UMass Fine Arts Center.
Luminarium Dance Company 2013.

Elena Greenspan in tech rehearsal for Hush (Guerra, 2013).
Luminarium Dance Company, 2013.

Jennifer Roberts in tech rehearsal for Hush (Guerra, 2013).
Luminarium Dance Company, 2013.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The One I Keep: My thoughts in thousands

Similar to this weekend's events, this entry is right on the heels of the last. While Friday and Saturday brought 24 hours of loudness, fun, chaos, laughter, tapping, singing, shouting, and cheering, Sunday brought the waking stress of Luminarium's professional film shoot for The One I Keep (to debut at Luminarium's largest production of the year, Secrets & Motion: September 13, 14, and 15 at the Armory in Somerville MA). Yet to my surprise, the experience ended up being more successful than I could have asked for.

Jess Chang in The One I Keep, Film Still.
Merli V. Guerra, Luminarium 2013.

Three days later, the blisters on my right hand are finally fading away, having hand-cut over 1,600 pieces of paper to drop on my (poor) beautiful dancer Jess Chang over the course of 3 hours. Many sincere thanks go to both Jess (for her patience and masterful retrograding) and Kim, who spent the evening steadily dropping hundreds of pieces of paper from an old popcorn box in the upstairs mezzanine, only after jerry-rigging a MacGyver-style lighting setup for the shoot. Two music stands, clamp lights, and a shoelace later, we were good to go!

Jess Chang in The One I Keep, Film Still.
Merli V. Guerra, Luminarium 2013.

For days leading up to the shoot, friends and family would respond to my stress of falling paper with "So you just need to cut up recycled printed paper?" Unfortunately for my hands, brain, and the environment at large, I am far too picky an artist to let that pass. The purpose of this work was to create a film symbolizing the secrets we share versus the few we keep. In every relationship we embark on--be it friend, lover, family member, or mentor--there is always one thought we keep to ourselves. We may utter thousands of words in confidence to a friend, only to stop ourselves from admitting that one last thought...the one we keep.

Jess Chang in The One I Keep, Film Still.
Merli V. Guerra, Luminarium 2013.

In creating this work, it was thus very important to me to make each piece of paper meaningful. After months of preparation, it wasn't until the day of the shoot that I suddenly realized the perfect way to create exactly this effect. This blog, as you likely know, serves as my online journal. It is a treasure trove of thoughts, ponderings, ambitions, fears, and well...secrets, voiced aloud. By compiling text from my recent entries, printing these words on thousands of cut pieces of paper, and letting them cascade around Jess during the shoot, the film became a literal outpouring of the thoughts I set free into the world.

Mixed into the hundreds of paper are a few secrets I haven't spoken to anyone--the last of which, Jess will ultimately keep in the film. These few unshared secrets flutter by the camera, swept up in the turbulence of all the rest, the same way they dart through one's mind before being tucked back into place.

"ATS Rentals"
Jess Chang in The One I Keep, Film Still.
Merli V. Guerra, Luminarium 2013.

"look up"
Jess Chang in The One I Keep, Film Still.
Merli V. Guerra, Luminarium 2013.

Truthfully, it was eerily exciting to see snippets of my thoughts land around Jess's shoulders, hands, and feet. It was like hearing short clips of an old recording--seeing familiar words that vaguely ring a bell for their context, but not quite enough to recall the specific event. There were also some interestingly synchronous moments. In one frame I plan to use, the words "ATS Rentals" sit on Jess's hand (the same people we rented these very cameras from, and a note clearly appearing from an old blog entry months earlier when we did a similar shoot); in another, Jess's eye is covered by a piece of paper that delicately landed on a single strand of hair, with the words "look up." It has become almost a fun game of I Spy as I sift through the footage, and more importantly, the tiny paper notes fluttering across my screen feel genuine.

Jess Chang in The One I Keep, Film Still.
Merli V. Guerra, Luminarium 2013.

So as I continue to work on this film, I can at least feel confident in its artistic merit. No recycled paper here... Instead, thousands of little thoughts--mostly told, a few yet to be discovered.

"The One I Keep" will debut at Luminarium's largest show of the year, SECRETS & MOTION, September 13, 14, and 15 at the Armory in Somerville MA. Tickets and more information on the production are available here.

A Euphoric Exhaustion: Luminarium's 2013 ChoreoFest

Over the past week, the number of artistic adventures racing through my life has been hilariously disproportionate to the rest of the month. My new issue of Art New England magazine was completed last Tuesday, Luminarium's annual 24-Hour ChoreoFest kept me awake Friday through Saturday, our professional film shoot for my new film The One I Keep took up Sunday, and this Tuesday brought the rare opportunity to reconnect with Nataraj Dancers in Western Mass for a wonderful class and repertory session. It's one of those times when I look back over the past 8 days and am reminded of the power of artistic creativity to produce so much energy and adrenaline needed to make it through. It's exhausting, but it's a euphoric exhaustion.


While last year's ChoreoFest left me dead tired, a little beaten down, and ultimately coming-to one day later while driving through Pennsylvania's Amish countryside, this year's ChoreoFest left me with boundless energy, electric excitement, and got me all the way home before falling asleep mid-burrito. So many of this year's first-time participants referred to the event as an opportunity to both push and learn more about their personal limits, and I can honestly it has done the same for me, having now hosted it with Kim for the second year. Things I've learned about myself: I do not enjoy choreographing overnight with a deadline looming (unlike my incredible co-director), and I cannot survive the event on one hour's sleep. But! I now know that I love being ChoreoFest's videographer and technical troubleshooter. Having the opportunity to spend quality time in each studio as a fly on the wall (a very tech-savvy, high-end camera-toting fly), and countless hours conversing with the other choreographers in the building, was as engaging as it was purposeful. Days later, I found myself knee deep in footage, and loving every minute of it. So many creative and joyful moments caught on film...now condensed into a few short minutes and some beautiful photos.

Above all else, ChoreoFest continues to foster new friendships between Luminarium and the other participating companies, with personal friendships forming in tandem. And possibly the most important tip I've learned in the last two years: A three-hour nap is plenty to get me through this all-night event...but the only way to get it is to squirrel myself away and hide from my ever-too-eager-to-wake-me-up co-director!

To hear other participants' thoughts, visit Luminarium's blog to read the 24-hour entry created during this year's ChoreoFest.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Boxes Piece: Expanding "Tactile Memories"

Just a few short hours ago, I had an intense, yet inspiring, conversation with a fellow artist about the power of tactility; specifically, in relation to memory.

As I create new material for tomorrow's rehearsal of my Boxes Piece, I believe I will weave this tactility into my work. So much of this piece revolves around loved ones we have lost, and the words we hope to carry to them, that it seems clear to me now (thanks to this earlier conversation) that the piece should at times involve the beginning. That moment when we learn we've lost what we have lost.

Some tactile moments I hope to pull from within the boundless chapters of my own memory:
  • Losing a friend to pancreatic cancer in middle school. I first remember hearing a rumor of his death in the hallway: Harsh concrete. Next, when I learned for certain, I crawled inside the footwell of my teacher's desk: Cold metal, slowly warming with my prolonged presence.
  • An earlier memory... Losing my elementary school nurse, with whom I was extremely close (Yes, I was that kid.), also to pancreatic cancer. Learning the news in my parents' living room: Rough carpet on skin.
  • An even earlier memory... Wanting to see my great-grandmother just one last time before she passed. I was barely 3, but I have this strange, faded memory: Wriggly against a plastic car seat in the dark; a warm light outside.
  • In college... The hospitalization (leading to the soon-followed passing) of a dear old neighbor. I'd just won three awards at the Five College Film Festival, so work with me here, but at the point of hearing the news, I was standing on my bed, which was littered in my $89 prize money mostly in fives and ones: Somewhat grungy, crumpled dollar bills against clean, smooth sheets.
  • Most recent... Losing a dance partner. This memory is so fresh that it's easy to remember most of my actions. I read the news on my computer screen; I paced my wooden floor hoping my friend would pick up; I sat on my bed while talking to him on the phone for a long, long time. But oddly enough, the tactile memory I have is the actual act of crying: Sticky face; burning, salty lips.
These five (or six) tactile memories come to me the most clearly, though I certainly have many more losses beyond these five. Yet for now, I think I'll begin by feeding these physical memories into my work. After all, that is the beauty of expression through movement, through motion, through dance.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

For only the wind to read


It's time again to ask myself, Why. What is it I'm trying to "say," to express, to feel, to breathe, to disclose, to open, to reflect upon, to smooth, to soothe through this piece?

As Luminarium begins its vigorous rehearsal process for Secrets & Motion, I find myself no longer interested in earlier versions of my choreographic thoughts--versions that once seemed so seamless and clear in my mind back in November have gradually faded, morphed, transformed, and now, in their new state, require flight. How do I go from the churning to the running to the leap--that ultimate release and letting go, as my piece takes me along for the ride?

So here I am on a Sunday afternoon, forcing myself to physically type out the answer to my most basic question: What thoughts am I grappling with in my group piece? After all, this project is centered around the merging of movement, light, and text. Perhaps a little writing exercise will do the trick!

Musings ("The Boxes Piece"):

In speaking with someone close to me last night, I found myself chattering "I love water; I love candles; I love lanterns; I love cemeteries!" so it's no wonder that events like the Forest Hills Lantern Festival (held on the water in the beautiful Forest Hills Cemetery, and with whom I'm in the beginning phases of forging a collaboration with for this project) would strike a chord with me artistically.

Forest Hills Lantern Festival 2010

But in respect to this piece and the Secrets & Motion Project as a whole, I am drawn to this Japanese-inspired water lantern imagery for a completely different set of reasons: I love the concept of writing one's thoughts on paper and setting them afloat on the water (a literal "secret in motion"), and that by doing so, these thoughts take on a life of their own--following their own little adventures, as they wind their way across the water. Alternatively, I am equally taken with the communicative nature of the festival--quenching our need to pass on a message to those no longer in our lives, or at the very least, sending those messages out into the world for only the wind to read.

It seems fitting, then, that my other Secrets & Motion piece (my film) is so focused on the concept of the secrets that we keep, while this piece is now so clearly heading me down the path of the secrets we wish we'd spoken sooner. What would I tell him now, if I could, if I saw him. What would I want her to know, if she could hear me, and could listen.

It's a force that drives all of us at moments--these feelings and thoughts we wish we could share, and upon finding that outlet, offer us a beautiful balance and release... Perhaps this is why I have paired each of my five dancers with another (who, in rehearsals, I've referred to as "shadows"). Perhaps this piece is seeking balance through giving these secrets a voice.

And having typed this all out without pause, allowing my brain to speak quickly and without stopping to reflect, I am feeling much more balanced, myself, as I head into rehearsal #2. I can only hope these thoughts have equally struck a chord with my readers as well, as I hope to create a new work that can find a home for all viewers in its mission to connect.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Smoke against the glass

I enjoy the movement of something as simple as the swirling of matte-finish smoke against crisp, reflective glass, as I cap a candle in its jar.

I find comfort in the gift that is to write; in my ability to express my thoughts through text. To translate from mind to tongue, and from tongue to hand. To find the thread connecting each thought to my spine, then weave them across a page.

And now, the challenge...and the outlet...far greater than my personal journal can provide:

Luminarium is currently casting its largest production of the year, Secrets & Motion; a production driven by the fluid integration of dance, light, and text. Text in the form of journal entries, notes, admissions, secrets. What is text, if not a series of thoughts we feel deserve the chance to breathe on their own by translating them to paper?

Kim is busy underway with a series of interpretations of her own, all of which I am eager to watch unfold. Yet for me, the theme seems to consistently return to the one above; to the concept of releasing a thought into the world and watching it travel away from you, as it learns to breathe and exist on its own.

The two strongest images in my mind moving forward are ones that involve this integration of secrets and motion in the most literal sense. In the first, a woman sits covered in tiny paper notes that gradually fly off her body, leaving her grasping at the final one to keep. The second image is still a blur, but is deeply inspired by the image below:

The thought of writing a wish on a lantern and sending it out to sea for a journey of its own is oddly striking to me, not just in its visual and symbolic beauty, but in the curiosity of its adventure.

So this is the moment I love and loathe. The moment when I can feel that matte-finish smoke swirling, toiling, inside my mind in an effort to connect the dots. To take these images and discern the voices I'd like to give them through my choreography. And as this smoke swirls beautifully in its mystery, I am ready for the gray to clear. To find my direction through the clarity of that crisp, reflective glass. To begin.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Authenic being, beloved pearl.

Background:  Monday night, I had someone ask me if I was "religious," and thus began my typical attempt to explain that I'm spiritual, yes...religious, not particularly. That my idea of spirituality is centered around the concept of synchronicity, and "no, not quite 'Everything happens for a reason.' It's different than that."

24 hours later, the sprites of midnight offered me a little more insight into how to answer this, which (while helpful in trying to explain what I see in "synchronicity" to other people) was most valuable in helping to clarify it for myself.

Begin: Rewinding one week: Luminarium was busier than ever last Saturday and Sunday, as we filmed not one, not two, but 11 new and repertory works over two short days of filming. Special thanks go out to ATS Rentals for assisting us with their beautiful cameras, and to Michael Russell of Great Idea Media for being our professional troubleshooter/videographer for the two days. Saturday was a whirlwind of new work, followed by performing older pieces alongside my company members, then a mental and physical collapse until we started up again Sunday night.

At 7pm, I met up with Michael not at Green Street Studios, but at a venue that has become very dear to Kim and me, to our dancers, and our audience. Center for Arts at the Armory in Somerville offers a bounty of space: cavernous ceilings disappear above you; a large brick wall with artful half-moon windows gives you subtle texture, while defining the depth of the space; the hardwood floor is steady, quiet, and peacefully reflective; and the mezzanine above invites viewers to gaze below like birds mid-flight. It is here that my work Andromeda was first presented indoors, and as I watched it unfold from the mezzanine mid-show, I knew that if ever I filmed it, it would have to be here.

So, it's 7pm on a Sunday. The light outside is fading away. Melenie (my dancer...and childhood friend) is rehearsing in the space. Michael discovers one of the cameras is faulty, and we decide to use just the one. Our second run of the piece begins, and I find myself standing in the expansive darkness of this inspiring space (this empty canvas). I have no camera to tend to, and Michael has been swallowed up somewhere else in the room, manning the footage. And there is Andromeda—performing for no one: no audience, no company, no reporters, no stray spectators, not even for me. My work was simply there; living, breathing, and thriving in the space. It was jarring in its beauty, and after a weekend of exhaustion, I found myself tearing up without hesitation. Not only had Melenie taken this piece to a new level of selfless embodiment, but the piece seemed to have stolen her identity just as seemlessly, leaving only this work of art hovering in the space on its own creative terms.

Present:  And now we're back. 24 hours after "no, not quite 'Everything happens for a reason.' It's different than that," and moments before realizing what that difference was. Having spent hours editing the various angles of Andromeda footage, I had one last step. Syncing it up with the final version of the soundscore. Ok, I thought, this is tedious, and will take forever, but you're almost there. I dropped in the sound, and to my huge amazement, it was perfectly in sync. Honestly, I couldn't have edited it better if I tried! So as oddly mechanical and unimportant as this tiny midnight victory may seem, I felt a sudden rush of purpose...of synchronicity.

Last summer, a dance mentor of mine had given me a deck of cards (similar to tarot), each with beautiful illustrations of folkloric women and elements, and each with a short message about the card. It's the type of deck you sometimes feel drawn to, and at others wonder if you're simply looking for an answer you've already decided in your head. I hadn't drawn one in months, and in this moment I was so heightened by the success of my completed film, and this brief moment of the universe syncing up, that I dug out my deck and drew a card.

"Pearl - Authenticity"

"Pearl - Authenticity." Featuring a woman cupping a glowing orb of light, and the words "Pearl, illuminated from within, bestows an iridescent beauty on the beholder...captures the luminous energy of the moon. Be rich in the knowledge that your authentic being is that beloved pearl." Given the nature of this piece, the story it shares, the experience I felt watching it exist on its own the week before, the satisfying cohesiveness of the completion of its film, this card was perfectly suited for Andromeda.

Conclusion:  So that's when I realized it. No, it's not that I believe "everything happens for a reason." It's that when I do have these moments of synchronicity (of the world syncing up at just the right moment), I find I am most true—most authentic—to myself, to my mind, to my creativity. And in having these moments, I feel as though I've stopped the world from spinning on by—briefly, but long enough to recognize who I am within it. I'm invited to connect with myself and my surroundings on a deeper level; and though fleeting, these moments are what I call my "religion."

I leave you now with the completed film:

As a final note, I should really include another synchronous moment my dancer shared with me. Melenie follows UberFacts and was recently awakened by the following unexpected tweet: “@UberFacts: In 4 billion years, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with its neighboring Andromeda galaxy.” 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Threading Motion Project: From Image to Film

Over the past four weeks, my artistic focus has primarily fallen on my Threading Motion Project with Luminarium and the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell. I selected six quilts from the exhibit, tracked them down with the help of Silk! curator Pam Weeks, connected with each of the quilters behind these beautiful works of art, created imagery-based concepts to set on my dancers in the studio, and started to play.

Play I did, but within such a condensed time frame! Each piece took roughly two hours to create. In each one, I came in with visuals and emotions inspired by the quilts, but needed time to experiment at the beginning to learn for the first time how each of these quilts actually looked projected across my dancers. Some (like Cynthia Star) fell into place within moments--living and breathing on their own accord. Others (like Spinal) presented challenges I did not expect, but also allowed for new opportunities I never anticipated!

Somehow we managed to finish all six pieces within this brief rehearsal period, and spent exactly four consecutive hours on Saturday flying through them with professional cameras rolling.

A shot taken during this weekend's final run of Chasm.
Photo credit: Kim Holman

I have yet to see the footage, but from the little I saw peeking over Michael's shoulder on the screen, I think these will turn out exactly as hoped. (Note: "Hoped" rather than "planned," because what's the fun in creating new art if you can't embrace new directions your work takes you?)

Below are images of the six Quilt Vignettes, with final films to follow later this month:
Quilt by Judith Content

Quilt by Sonya Lee Barrington

Chinese Rose
Quilt by Diane Loomis

Cynthia Star
Quilt by Janet Elwin

Gilding the Arbor
Quilt by Bethanne Nemesh

Quilt by Sonya Lee Barrington


Quilt by Sonya Lee Barrington
Performance Info: 

Saturday April 20: Opening of Silk!
Luminarium will perform a 15-minute piece within the space at
2pm and 3pm.
(Visitors only have to pay the regular museum admission fees:
Adults - $7; Seniors & Students with ID - $5; Children under 6 - free; Museum Members - free)

Saturday April 27:
Silk! Symposium

Luminarium will perform its 15-minute piece to end the symposium day, at
(The Symposium is $70-$85, but if guests wish to see just the performance, they can pay the regular museum admission fee at 3:30 to attend.)

Quilt Vignettes will be played on loop during the entirety of the exhibit: April 18-July 7)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

...simply to introduce

Have you ever had a moment when you wished your life had overlapped with another? Maybe to ask that person a question you're yearning to know the answer to. Maybe to forge a friendship, or maybe to simply introduce yourself as a kindred spirit. Whatever the impetus, I'm willing to bet you have felt it at various points in your life, and today I once again felt it in my own.

I remember the first time I was emotionally swept away by this sensation. The adrenaline of discovering a person, only to realize a moment later that they no longer exist and that contact is impossible, leaves you with a moment of pain mixed from disappointment and excitement colliding in your chest.

I remember watching the old black and white Robin Hood film starring Errol Flynn when I was a kid, and falling head over heels. I grabbed a hold of a computer, tried my hand at one of those old-school search engines (excited to find photos of this dreamy actor), and instead was (stupidly) surprised when the first image to pop up on the screen was his aging gravestone. What?? Dead? Somehow the idea that he was still out there (regardless of age, and regardless of the fact that he wasn't actually Robin Hood) had been enough to keep the fantasy alive. Seeing his tombstone, and recognizing that this person would never, ever know who I was: devastating.

So why all this talk of overlapping? Today, as I worked on an assignment for a feature article in an upcoming arts magazine, I was asked to look up photos of Atsuko Tanaka's Electric Dress. I was instantly transfixed.

Atsuko Tanaka's Electric Dress, 1956.
This incredible piece of art, created back in the 50s in Japan, challenged what the world perceived as art, and struck me in its similarity to my most recent work Andromeda.

Merli V. Guerra's Andromeda, 2012
Atsuko Tanaka's Electric Dress, 1956.

 Need I explain why? In researching this woman's work further, I found that I am drawn to many of the same elements as she is--from redefining the body's role in performance art, to working with exposed lightbulbs and textiles.

Atsuko Tanaka's Electric Dress, 1956.

It was the final image above that strengthened my urge to connect with this artist. When set into motion, Tanaka's Electric Dress creates a modern kimono through light, not all that dissimilar to the work I am currently pursuing through projected light against uncut fabric to create the faux appearance of a kimono when moving.

Rehearsal for Chasm, 2013.
Quilt image by Judith Content.

A kindred artistic spirit, and one that I am disappointed beyond words to discover has passed away--in 2005 at the age of 74.

Because if I could, I would write to her in an instant...simply to introduce myself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Midnight mourning and a new moon

"Brand New Moon" by Ohlen

Tonight's sky featured a moon I rarely see -- a slender silver sliver circling a perfect sphere of black. It's the kind of moon that, when you look close enough, allows you to see its dark side, subtly yet perfectly against the backdrop of the dark sky.

My entries are usually thought out, with a (somewhat) linear purpose. Tonight, I offer up all the black against black. All the thoughts against thoughts that were praying on my mind as I entered this week. And maybe, hopefully, by the time I finish typing, I'll be able to find that same silver circle encompassing this chaos in the dark.

"Merli V. Guerra." It's a branding choice I stuck to years ago -- an opportunity to proudly put forth each piece of myself, even the innermost part. What is the V, you might ask? Victoria? Virginia? Valerie? Vivian?

Uh, nope, actually it's...Valentine?

Yes, thanks to my parents' desire to represent as many branches of my collective family tree as possible, I find myself now with three family names: The first Italian, the last Portuguese, and the middle (Valentine) French-Canadian. My great-grandmother's middle name, in fact.

So, Merli Valentine, what's it like?

For starters (and the ultimate purpose behind this week's post), I have never viewed Valentine's Day as a holiday celebrating romance. Love yes, but not romance. I remember the days when I thought "Merli Valentine's Day" was a real holiday, named solely after yours truly... Cool! The only four-year-old in my class to not only have a birthday, but my own holiday too? That's a pretty sweet reality.

In the memory vault of my mind, it seems that all Valentine's Days were spent staying home sick from school, watching Bedknobs & Broomsticks on the only-when-sick pulled out sofa. I remember those sparkling styrofoam red hearts on sticks that came with the bouquets my dad would bring home to my mom, and I remember red glitter shimmering in the air around me as I danced with these new "magic wands" while twirling mid-bounce on the squeaky sofa mattress. I'm sure this only happened once, but in my mind, this happened every year!

Bedknobs & Broomsticks
The single greatest stay-home-sick movie of my childhood.

Fast forward twenty years later to February 13, 2012. My recently-replaced dance partner has spent the past several days fighting for his life in the hospital, and while I don't know him well personally, I feel I know him well through the connectedness of dance. I hop online, log into the website, and discover he hasn't made it.

This may seem like an odd leap -- from childhood "name day" glitter fairy to professional dancer losing a peer -- but it all comes around in the end.

When a person you never thought would disappear suddenly vanishes from your life, you find yourself wanting nothing more than to be with the people you care about -- to see them, hold them, remind them that you're there. This midnight mourning led me to call out from work the next day, and instead visit my dear friend Meg. For those who follow my blog, you might remember my posting this summer, Marbles on a quiet floor, and yes, this is the same beautiful woman.

If it hadn't been for the loss of my partner the night before, I would not have spent my Valentine's Day with Meg -- A day which turned out to be the very last day I would spend with this incredible woman who knew every version of me: Professional dancer, aspiring collegiate, studious / fashion-chatty high schooler, overly-energetic arts & crafts kid, and that giggling girl in glitter. She knew every me. From Mimi to Mermi to Merli to Merli Valentine to Merli V. Guerra, and last Valentine's Day I enjoyed "my" holiday laughing with her and telling her where I'd bought today's set of earrings.

I kissed her goodbye, then never saw her again.

Now, a year later, I am sitting in my "grownup" apartment. The scarf I bought for Meg in India is hugging my neck. A photo of four-year-old me is smiling just a few feet away. I've just spent the evening with three beautiful women, commemorating the loss of our dance friend a year before. And I can see the moon. All of it -- the dark, the light, the black on black.

"Merli - May '91"

I had braced myself for a week of remembrance and sadness, but I find now that I am instead ready to enjoy yet another Valentine's Day filled with love, as I spend the evening rehearsing with six of my favorite Luminarium company members.

So that is what it means to add the V to my name. That is the love I embrace on this holiday, and that is the sum of a year's worth of thoughts, now visible in my mind through a thin, but strong, circle of light.

-Merli Valentine

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Threading Motion Project: Thoughts Unfolding

Since posting my "digital sketches" online of my quilt vignettes for Luminarium's upcoming Threading Motion Project, I have received such a wonderful and enthusiastic response from the local artistic community! In sharing my thoughts with a curious fellow choreographer, I thought it might be beneficial to my own followers to share a bit of the backstory behind the project, while also sharing the first real image taken from my vignette "Gingko."

I’m so touched that you’re excited by the Quilt collaboration, or as I’ve been calling it, the "Threading Motion Project." I’ve been a long-time quilt admirer for years, and have spent a lot of time in Lowell at various contemporary quilt shows. A few years ago, I found myself so moved by one particular exhibit (“No Holds Barred” at the New England Quilt Museum) that I reached out to the guest curator (Ms. Valerie Poitier), and asked if she would consider helping me apply for a grant to collaborate between choreographer and curator. She was wonderful and enthusiastic, but unfortunately, the grant didn’t come through and Luminarium wasn’t in a place to fund a project of that magnitude at that early point in our founding. (You can read my blog post on this project’s original inspiration here: http://merliguerra.blogspot.com/2011/04/yesterday-i-visited-new-england-quilt.html) 
This past October I decided to tone down the project, and presented it to the director of the New England Quilt Museum, who was also very enthusiastic and recommended we collaborate with their 2013 exhibit "Silk!" -- an exhibit dedicated to the art of silk quilting, with works ranging from traditional to contemporary, and antique to modern. A very nice blend. This time, I was able to secure a grant through the Lowell Cultural Council, and now Kim is equally excited to be presenting a live performance component in the space, exploring the theme of threading with movement.
So! Now, I am creating six film vignettes that use projected images of six silk quilts across my dancers. You can find entries about these vignettes (and my “digital sketches”) on Luminarium’s blog, here: http://luminariumdance.blogspot.com/

Tonight, these digital sketches began to take real, physical shape in the studio, and I am excited to present my first real image, featuring my tree-frog-like duet overlayed with Sonya Lee Barrington's Gingko quilt:

t. to b. - Luminarium Company Members Melenie Diarbekirian and Amy Mastrangelo, overlayed with Sonya Lee Barrington's Gingko quilt. Part of Guerra's Quilt Vignettes for Luminarium's Threading Motion Project

Performance Info:

Saturday April 20: Opening of Silk!
Luminarium will perform a 15-minute piece within the space at 2pm and 3pm.
(Visitors only have to pay the regular museum admission fees: Adults - $7; Seniors & Students with ID - $5; Children under 6 - free; Museum Members - free)

Saturday April 27: Silk! Symposium
Luminarium will perform its 15-minute piece to end the symposium day, at 4pm.
(The Symposium is $70-$85, but if guests wish to see just the performance, they can pay the regular museum admission fee at 3:30 to attend.)

(Quilt Vignettes will be played on loop during the entirety of the exhibit: April 18-July 7)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review: Beauty in Simplicity

Recently, in looking up something completely unrelated, I came across images of this art installation...and fell head over heels in love:

William Forsythe's Scattered Crowd
Image from www.lostateminor.com.
This larger-than-life installation, that changes in dynamic with each new venue, will serve as my inspiration for my work later this season. There is beauty in its simplicity here -- Not to say the concept and execution are simple, as these clearly are highly complex! -- but rather in what it all breaks down to: Let's hang balloons on different levels, and multiply that thought by a thousand.

Later this year, as a part of Luminarium's Secrets & Motion project, I would like to work with several new lighting "toys." Life-sized boxes that can be illuminating in different ways with dancers inside; flour and flash photography; and even possibly (Kim, if you're reading this, don't freak out) trampolines. In the cluttered chaos of these images lies inspiration, but also over-zealousness. I need to slow down, stop trying to piece all those thoughts and inspirations into one monstrous creature, and instead let each mental snapshot fall into its rightful place on the floor of my mind. 

Afterall, it is the simplicity within the visual complexity of this installation that I find myself most drawn to. So before I start building some giant set with dancers bouncing off trampolines, and landing in boxes full of flour (again, Kim, don't worry), I need to instead sit with each image, take from it the simple elements I find myself most drawn to, and ask myself What is it about these elements I want to share with my audience?

...and then multiply that by a thousand.

All images courtesy of www.lostateminor.com, where I first discovered this installation.