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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Wayside Inn: Early Sketches

Each season I push myself to chronicle the development of the major projects I embark on through Luminarium. It's amazing how quickly a few still images floating across my mind turn to active ideas, planning, and physical motion. Even in the one month since sending Kim my first sketches, I am now further engaged (and steadily en route to being fully "entrenched") in the project. Thus, let the documenting begin.

It's probably getting old by now to read this sentence, but for those just joining, every season I create and lead Luminarium's Cultural Community Outreach Project—using dance and art to highlight a local cultural or historic landmark. Past examples have taken me to Concord (Celebration of Preservation, Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House, 2012), Lowell (Threading Motion Project, New England Quilt Museum, 2013), Arlington (Night at the Tower, Arlington Reservoir Water Tower, 2014), and Amherst (Amherst Storybook Project, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 2015). This year marks the monumental fifth iteration of this annual endeavor, and—thanks to a grant from the Sudbury Cultural Council—will highlight the 300th anniversary of the historic Wayside Inn of Sudbury, MA.

So much has already begun to develop since my initial concept of presenting three new works, each one celebrating the Inn's 300 years while focusing on an integral aspect of the landmark: The Inn, the gristmill, and the land. The project began in September with a cold call to the Wayside Inn; the grant application was then submitted in October; funding was awarded in January; and in February I sent Kim the following preliminary notes and images darting through my mind for the event:

The Film
(Focus on the mill)

Either a piece filmed inside the mill, or projected onto various parts of it—including potentially the waterfall. 

Digital sketch for Merli V. Guerra's upcoming project at The Wayside Inn, 2016.

The Petticoat Piece 
(Focus on the inn within the greater context of the world) 
This is the piece I'm envisioning expanding upon (or if I finish it in time, simply re-showing) for our Feature Production. I've been culling through the inn's journal entries from 1920 onwards (will need to inquire about older ones), and I'd like to use snippets about the people who stayed, the greater context of the war overseas and some beautiful quotes from the inn keeper at the time about wishing everyone could feel the joy and peace felt at the inn. It was a meeting ground for people reentering the country, and those shipping off. Some really incredible stories passed through this space! 

Current Sketch (different petticoats to symbolize different eras) 

Digital sketch for Merli V. Guerra's upcoming project at The Wayside Inn, 2016.

Alternatively: Giving each dancer 3 (layered) slips, one per century to gradually reveal, from multi-hoop to single-hoop to pencil slip.

The Land
This is where I'm stuck. I don't necessarily think I need to stick to the idea of the land if I want to change it, but so far nothing's really struck me for how to move forward.

One extra or alternative piece
I have an idea for one piece: To have it be a comical, quick-paced rundown of the history of the place, good for kids. We'll see...

One month later, these thoughts have since expanded, brought on new creators, and rehearsals have officially begun. Kim felt inspired by the concept of the land and has since taken that work on, and Mali Sastri of the powerful band Jaggery will be joining us on this project as we create a new work coupling her impressive music talents with our choreography. All in all, the project is off and running!

In the meantime, Luminarium has since created that "extra" piece—portraying 300 years of history through a delightfully whimsical 3-minute performance piece—and last night held a special video shoot for the project. We've all seen plenty of beautiful photos of dancers capturing their kinetic energy through the use of flour, but we're tackling this genre from a new angle: The Wayside Inn is home to a 1920s gristmill, using 18th century milling machinery. It is now one of just three remaining operational gristmills in Massachusetts.

In honor of this mill, I'm now working on a new film that will merge dance and flour, to be projected onto performers during the event this July. I've since set aside the waterfall projection concept (though I'm sure this will return in future years). Take a peek at these film stills caught from last night's shoot—step one is now complete.

Film still from Merli V. Guerra's upcoming film for The Wayside Inn, 2016.

Film still from Merli V. Guerra's upcoming film for The Wayside Inn, 2016.

Film still from Merli V. Guerra's upcoming film for The Wayside Inn, 2016.

Film still from Merli V. Guerra's upcoming film for The Wayside Inn, 2016.

View the rest of the image here, and stay tuned for further updates on this exciting project!

Luminarium at the Wayside Inn: 300 Years of History
Sunday, July 10 at noon, 1:30pm, and 3pm
The performance cycle will travel from the barn, across the field, along the brook, and end at the mill. Viewers are encouraged to join the journey at any point of this 30-40 minute performance.

This project is supported in part by a grant from the Sudbury Cultural Council, a branch of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.