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, 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.