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.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Amherst Storybook Project: The Reimagined Twelve

After months of planning, promoting, gathering, and reimagining, on Saturday, August 8th, the moment I'd been waiting for finally arrived. There I sat (or hovered, really) on a large spider web-like netted "floor" suspended 16 feet off the ground, with my ever driven, ever game-for-anything company members beneath me. With Kim by my side as photography guru and a stockpile of tech devices—laptop, cameras, projector—sagging around us, we began shouting instructions from the dark abyss.

Kim figures out shutter speed as the dancers
prepare below. Photo: Merli V. Guerra.

Merli laughs while jiggling the netted floor.
Photo: Kim Holman.


What made this photoshoot tricky was mechanics. Sadly, 16 feet is just too short a distance to project images to the full size needed, which meant we needed to break each image down into multiple shots, placing the dancers in their (uncomfortable) poses atop a large white backdrop covering the floor as we went.

So while each image began something like this (with the projector autokerning out of control with each shake of our netted floor, and the pomegranate far too small for Brittany to fit inside)...

Brittany sits patiently as we correct kerning and size
on the projector. Photo: Kim Holman.

...by the end, we'd adjusted everything to get just the right shot:

After shouting instructions that included "Tuck your knees!"
"Relax your feet!" "Make a C-curve with your back!"
"Twist your face an inch towards us!" and
"Perfect!! DON'T MOVE", we finally captured the final shot.
Direction: Merli V. Guerra. Photo: Kim Holman.

Final step? A little color correction (as the eye picks up colors very differently than a camera does, especially when using a video projector for lighting, which often creates a blue tone when captured on camera), and many hours of carefully layering the photograph into the original photograph of the artwork creates the final image that our eyes saw from overhead—and more importantly, what my brain imagined weeks before!

"Eve"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performer Brittany Lombardi,
with artwork by Julia Griffin, age 29.

Photographic elements shot
by Kimberleigh A. Holman.

© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.

That is why many of the images you'll see below are labeled as "composite photographs." This doesn't mean that we digitally "cheated"—it simply means that multiple photographs were layered together to construct the final image. Take Jack be nimble, pictured here:


"Jack be nimble"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performers Brittany Lombardi, Chun-jou Tsai,
Tyler Catanella, Amy Mastrangelo, and Melenie Diarbekirian,
with artwork by Joshua Donovan, age 14.

Photographic elements shot by Kimberleigh A. Holman.
© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.

Any sane artist would simply photograph all five dancers from above, then digitally copy and paste the central black and white square on top of them. Yet as a perfectionist, I knew I could not live with myself cheating in this manner. Though it made this one of our most difficult images to shoot, for each shot, we enlisted two other company members to hold a four-foot sheet of poster board across the dancers, while lining it up perfectly with the projection. So while the final image is a composite of five separate photos carefully layered together, I can sleep soundly knowing that everything I'm presenting to the public once existed as a real, physical image that could be viewed from overhead in the space. It may be a minor qualifier to some, but to me, it speaks volumes to the project as a whole: Physically connecting visual art and dance.

Tyler and Dream hold their poses as two dancers carefully line up the
poster board above them. Photo: Nikki Girroir.

Amy relaxes for a moment as Nikki rearranges Melenie's legs peeking out
from behind the poster board. Photo: Kim Holman.

Another tricky image was Gabby's solo, which I imagined to be an homage to Guido Reni's Aurora, often referred to as Aurora Bringing in the Dawn.

Guido Reni, Aurora.
Courtesy of studyblue.com

The moment I saw 5-year-old Libby Smith's beautiful image of the sun rising over the hills, my mind raced back to my Orchard House days. Of all the rooms in that beautiful old home, it was May Alcott's room (the youngest of the sisters, and inspiration for Amy in Little Women) that I loved most. As a young artist, May sketched practice works on the walls of her room, and below one window to this day is a beautifully detailed sketch of the famous fresco, having borrowed a reproduction from Ralph Waldo Emerson to practice her people-drawing skills.

Alison helps us scale the image to the correct size, as Gabby lies patiently
under the sheet. Photo: Kim Holman.

In a fanciful, dreamlike surge of inspiration, the idea came to me to remove the bottom backdrop, and instead use a king-sized sheet against the black floor to create an image of a young woman (with the golden hair of May Alcott and the golden glow of Aurora) flying across a darkened sky with the sunrise billowing behind her. The end result is quite possibly my favorite of the series:

"Bringing in the dawn"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performer Gabby Pacheco,
with artwork by Libby Smith, age 5.

Photographic elements shot by Kimberleigh A. Holman.
© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.

So after many hours of effort on the part of the performers and photographer, and many days of effort piecing everything together post-shoot, I welcome you to enjoy these reimagined twelve images.

Next step of the project: All writers based in the Greater Amherst region are encouraged to send us short stories and poems inspired by these images for inclusion in the culminating book for our Amherst Storybook Project. Submit your writing here!


"Bursting (with Joy)"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performers Tyler Catanella and
Amy Mastrangelo, with artwork by
Hayden Rodrigues, age 7.

Photographic elements shot by Kimberleigh A. Holman.
© Luminarium Dance Company 2015. 

"Morning Rituals"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performer Melenie Diarbekirian,
with artwork by Kalyani Kastor, age 17.

Photographic elements shot by Kimberleigh A. Holman.
© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.

"How it feels to move"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performers Nikki Girroir and Chun-jou Tsai,
with artwork by Sunali Rae Driver, age 2.

Photographic elements shot by Kimberleigh A. Holman.
© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.

"Party Lights"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performers Tyler Catanella, Melenie Diarbekirian,
and Amy Mastrangelo, with artwork by Maya Guerra-Greene, age 2.

Photographic elements shot by Kimberleigh A. Holman.
© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.

"Red Riding"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performer Nikki Girroir,
with artwork by Johanna R. Guiod, age 12.

Photographic elements shot by Kimberleigh A. Holman.
© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.

"Summer"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performers Nikki Girroir, Gabby Pacheco,
Nikki SaoPedro-Welch, and Alison McHorney,
with artwork by Tsukiko Tome Bhowmik, age 7.
Photographic elements shot by Kimberleigh A. Holman.
© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.
 

"Beneath"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performer Alison McHorney,
with artwork by Marit Gubrium, age 7.

Photographic elements shot
by Kimberleigh A. Holman.

© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.

"Self-Portrait: Creativity in Motion"
Composite photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performer Merli V. Guerra,
with artwork by Piper Nyala, age 2.

Photographic elements shot
by Kimberleigh A. Holman.

© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.

"Honey Hands"
Photograph by Merli V. Guerra.

Part of the "Amherst Storybook Project."
Featuring performer Kimberleigh A. Holman,
with artwork by Emilia K. Mann, age 17.

© Luminarium Dance Company 2015.



Luminarium's Amherst Storybook Project is supported in part by a grant from the Amherst Cultural Council.