A Greater Boston native, I'm a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. I'm co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), art director of Art New England magazine, senior contributor for The Arts Fuse, and am the Boston area dance critic for the international Fjord Review. I recently completed a one-year term as co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Council, and am regularly hired as an arts advocate to speak at events ranging from legislative assemblies at the State House to entrepreneurial panels for students at Mount Holyoke College. This blog serves as a behind-the-scenes peek into the life and journal of an interdisciplinary artist. Learn more at merliguerra.com or luminariumdance.org, and thank you for reading my thoughts on setting the visual and performing arts into motion.

Tuesday, 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.