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.

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)