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, January 5, 2013

Famous and Nameless: My Top 10 Professional Highlights of 2012

Yesterday my boss inquired about my New Year's resolutions, and for the first time I recognized in myself that resolutions aren't the focus of this holiday for me. Instead, I use New Year's Eve as a chance to reflect on the year behind me, because it's the experiences of 2012 that will undoubtedly shape, advise, inspire, and fuel me towards all my new experiences this coming year.

So while it's good to jot down "Will do laundry every Friday" on a corner of my notebook, the way I conduct and construct myself in 2013 is already in the making thanks to 2012, and I'm glad to say I think I like where I'm headed (where is that again?).

Things I feel grateful/proud/excited about from 2012 are listed as a photo entry below. Moments of fame: personally, locally, professionally, and even internationally... Not bad.

Luminarium (ie Merli and Kim) receives not one...not two...but four (!) of the five grants for which we applied. Thank you to the Boston Cultural Council, Somerville Arts Council, Concord Cultural Council, and Watertown Cultural Council (and the MCC) for funding our projects and giving our second season in Boston the financial kick it needed. We are still so grateful.

In March, I performed a lead role as "Prema" in Deborah Abel Dance Company's Calling to You at the Tsai Center in Boston. Wonderful cast, wonderful energy, and so wonderful to be performing as a dancer only! As much as I love my own company, it was nice to be able to focus on my craft, and not be the one running this incredibly complex performance.

Joe Gonzalez and I find ourselves soaking wet in Boston Common...literally in it. All thanks to a photoshoot with best-selling author Jordan Matter for the Dancers Among Us project. Did the photo make it into the book? Well, unfortunately, this was one of the final shots he took for the project, so no. But it did circulate online, and I'm thrilled to see that two of my Luminarium dancers were successfully featured in print from a shoot we arranged with Jordan last year. Thank you Jordan (and Joe) for an artistically and spontaneously charged experience!

Luminarium's beautiful dancers (shown here, Matt Johnson and Amy Mastrangelo) performing at one of my favorite places: Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House on its Centennial Anniversary. I was thrilled when my "Celebration of Preservation" project received funding from the Concord Cultural Council, with support from the Orchard House, to create a new dance piece incorporating voice recordings from tourists and locals speaking about their unique experiences with the museum. We performed the new work to three packed audiences on a luscious May afternoon, and were thrilled with the outpouring of positive response from all involved.

Perhaps it isn't right for an artist to end the year with a favorite piece of art, since all art produced throughout the year builds an artist's character, but this season's Andromeda project pushed my limitations as a choreographer, visual artist, and merger of light and movement. It has opened new possibilities in my mind by way of technology and artistry, and I have never grown tired of watching it. As Beverly Creasey of the Boston Arts review commented,
There’s nothing new under the sun, they say. They’re wrong. Luminarium Dance Company’s MYTHOS:PATHOS (at Arsenal Arts through Sept. 2nd and elsewhere thereafter) includes an exquisite vignette called Andromeda, beautifully danced by Melenie Diarbekirian.

On her lithe shoulders rests an armature of lights approximating the stars in the most distant galaxy we can see with the naked eye. (The metal candelabra reminded me of a medical “halo” fastened to the skull in patients who have broken their necks.) If anything, this halo seems weightless as Diarbekirian undulates through the sky. The theatrical effect of the slowly changing starlight is simply stunning. Merli Guerra’s choreography is, well, luminous.

In September, Kim and I were invited to kick off arsenalARTS' text & conText series, each speaking about our individual careers in the arts, then coming together for a Q&A with the audience. At some point during my serious-artist lecture...this happened. I can only hope I was talking about Andromeda...and not describing the time my family almost died by moose attack...or that I was just being super Italian. Regardless, being invited to speak about one's career makes one realize..."Oh hey, I do have a career! When did that happen?"

Our first commissioned work! And paycheck! Thanks to a wonderful connection through Kim, Luminarium was hired by a graduating composer at Ithaca College to present new work set to her music, based on the concept of feudal societies and revolution. It was both a challenge and a joy, allowing the company a fun weekend away, and for the very first time in two and a half years, providing even Kim and myself with a stipend. Our very first paycheck à la Luminarium...let's keep it up!

For the first time in our careers, Kim and I not only successfully held a show at a financially-risky, high-profile venue and walked away with a profit, but the show received so much buzz from our viewers that it sold out well in advance, forcing us to turn folks away at the door. Amazing! Let's make that the norm in 2013, please.

Certainly a high point in my career as a dancer: Performing a lead role in Calling to You on tour in India with Deborah Abel Dance Company. A beautiful experience all around, and a wonderful opportunity to perform in some of India's most famous theaters and institutions. Above is a photo of one of the large billboards we came across as we traveled. A strange sensation to at one moment feel like a celebrity with my face on an Indian billboard, and at another, enjoy the feeling of being no one at all as I chatted with locals who knew me only as a girl from America. Famous and nameless all in one image.

My final accomplishment of 2012 that took place steadily (while growing) throughout the year, was to give Luminarium exposure in the press. Between me tracking down reporters by phone, email, and in person, and Kim fielding incoming inquiries on the Luminarium hotline, we managed to cover everything from local papers to the Boston Globe. But that's not all--for myself, personally, I found myself mentioned in periodicals thanks to my involvement with Deborah Abel Dance Company. In the end, my favorite press moments of 2012 are: Being mentioned by name in the Boston Globe for my work as a lead in Calling to You, having the Boston Globe feature Luminarium's MYTHOS:PATHOS as Editor's Pick twice and ChoreoFest as well, receiving two features in the Concord Journal (one in May and one in November), being interviewed by Chris Bergeron for what would soon become Luminarium's first feature article in the MetroWest Daily News (and what an eloquently-written, well-researched article it is!), having my work as a performer cited yet again for Calling to You, but this time in The Hindu (Southern India's most widely-read English newspaper), and finally, receiving three glowing reviews of my (and Kim's) choreography in MYTHOS:PATHOS by cine-fille.com, the Boston Arts Review, and the South Shore Critic. And those are only my top choices! What a year!

Photos for this blog entry thanks to Shane Godfrey, Liza Voll, Jordan Matter, myself, Kristophe Diaz, arsenalARTS, Kimberleigh A. Holman, OBERON website, myself, and David Gordon, respectfully.