Welcome...

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, 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.

CHOREOFEST

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.