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, November 4, 2015

The Phoenix Piece: From start to finish and back again

This past week marked the debut, run, and closing of an incredible performance. For its 2015 feature production, Luminarium presented Spektrel—delivering on its promise to give audiences an array of "otherworldly shadows, light play, and colorful abandon." With it came the premiere of my latest work Phoenixial Cycle, previously mentioned in this blog as simply "The Phoenix Piece." Now I'd like to pause for a moment of reflection, as I'm apt to do. I'd like to take a moment to go back: Go back to that very first sketch and compare it to the final materialized image that appeared last week onstage.

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle. Photo: Ryan Carollo.

For the first time in many years (if ever!), I felt the need to present a program note with this work. While I often support the notion of taking away whatever one personally feels from seeing my choreography, for this piece I wanted to first offer a nugget of context; and from there, let the audience dive in, engage, and explore. It took some time to find just the right words, as I found myself considering how much I wished to reveal, yet in the end, I feel this Note from the Choreographer serves as an excellent summary of my thoughts for this entry, and a place to begin:

Note from the Choreographer:
Phoenixial Cycle began as a sketch—a stick figure of a woman rising to a surprising height, with a full stage-width skirt cascading around her. But for what purpose? I wondered, as the image materialized effortlessly from mind to paper. 40 yards of satin, three months of planning, and seven months of rehearsals later, I now know the answer.

This work—which largely began as autobiographical—quickly opened my eyes to a universal epidemic. So often in modern society, we are urged to over-extend ourselves beyond the point of fatigue, pushing instead to the point of burnout. I see it all too often in both of my communities (arts and publishing): A deadline takes priority over all else—health, sleep, nutrition—allowing ourselves to “crash” once the project is completed, only to start the process all over again when we come up for air.

Studying this cycle, I soon realized that in these moments we are essentially living the plight of the mythological phoenix, a magnificent bird that ignites into flames, then arises, renewed, from its own ashes. This work is thus choreographed to be ever-continuous, and lives on indefinitely past the stage lights going out—but first, we begin amidst 40 yards of satin, as if waking in our beds the morning after the “crash,” comforted by the sheets around us and hesitant to begin the cycle once more.

Enjoy these before-and-after shots below, followed by performance photos, and accolades from the press and audience. My emotions post-show are a satisfying cocktail of relief and euphoria, pride and gratitude, tinged with a dollop of disappointment that can only be satiated with a second round.

BEFORE: Early sketches of a woman magically rising.

AFTER: Matthew Kyle helps to create that magical effect I first sought.
Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle.
Photo: Celina Colby.

...so here's to the next round! May this piece rise again soon on a new stage, allowing the "phoenixial cycle" to continue once again.

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle. Photo: Ryan Carollo.


"She rises like the mythical phoenix from this figurative representation of ashes . . . as if she were a tribal goddess"

"Guerra’s [Phoenixial Cycle] turns a torturous, generation-wide phenomenon into a beautiful, haunting performance."

"The crown jewel of Spektrel is its finale, Phoenixial Cycle . . . It’s a triumph."

"[Spektrel] saved the most dramatic and high brow work for last. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle."


"The phoenix piece literally gave my chills."

"Phoenixial Cycle was magical/powerful! The dance was rich with meaning and feeling and the audience was transported and given much to think about." 

"It left me speechless."

"You managed to create both a window into your personal experiences and a mirror reflecting the larger societal influences of our time. Your artistry inspired in me a rare combination of profound introspection AND delightful optimism. Such a gift, Merli. Thank you for sharing it with the world!"

Enjoy these additional photos taken by Caitlin O'Brien:

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle. Photo: Caitlin O'Brien.

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle. Photo: Caitlin O'Brien.

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle.
Photo: Caitlin O'Brien.

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle. Photo: Caitlin O'Brien.

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle. Photo: Caitlin O'Brien.

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle. Photo: Caitlin O'Brien.

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle. Photo: Caitlin O'Brien.

Merli V. Guerra's Phoenixial Cycle. Photo: Caitlin O'Brien.