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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.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Labyrinth Piece: Constructing the Set & Score

It’s been some time since I last posted an entry, but it’s not for lack of thoughts to post! Over the past month, my two works in Luminarium’s upcoming feature production PORTAL: Stories from the Edge have each given me reasons to write. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately) these same moments have given me such a boost in creative energy that instead of writing, I’ve been diving straight back into the work. Still, I always find it helpful to put these struggles and revelations during the creation process into words—partially as a way of sharing the behind-the-scenes of my work with others, but also to remind myself years later about the work’s journey (at a point when often I’ve become so used to the finished product that I forget the path it took to get there).

At long last—as we head into these final 2.5 weeks (wait, what?) leading up to the proverbial curtain rising—I am forcing myself to stop in my tracks and jot down various progress reports on the twists and turns that have led these two works to this point. Enjoy!


Crawling out of the Labyrinth:

The last time I posted about the Labyrinth piece, it was to chronicle my somewhat comical realization that strapping branches to my dancers’ arms to create a human labyrinth, and forcing myself to invent a series of characters from an Alice in Wonderland / The Secret Garden mashup, had pulled me too far from my original mission. I then turned to research, and created a list of sections I felt were key to personifying the allures and fears of “slowing down,” as described by all those I polled. Since then, my work has finally begun to feel relevant again, both to society at large, and (equally important) to myself as an artist. This is the work I intended to create.

Yet to do that, this piece has me working in every facet of performance, from stage to set to lighting to score. And while I sincerely hope it all blurs together smoothly two weeks from now, here’s a glimpse into some of these facets of the work, isolated.

SET DESIGN

After taking my idea of “labyrinth” and breaking it down to figure out why I kept gravitating towards the visual of a maze, I came to realize that really what I envisioned wasn’t a maze so much as the visual of grass growing to the height of a tall hedge. This hedge would then have the potential to act as a barrier between the fast-paced world in which we first find our soloist, and the slowed-pace world we’re now in.

This discovery soon led me to creating stage mockups with a set of five tall panels, and the ingenious idea of purchasing large-scale foam board for a sturdy, lightweight set piece. And what an ingenious idea it was, two days later, as I found myself battling my way through the wind down the street with what felt like a 40x60” screaming and kicking child. And ohhh, how right I was to buy something so sturdy, as I struggled for 20 minutes to fit it into my car (pausing occasionally to do the casual car lean for passersby) and ultimately another 10 minutes desperately trying to score it with my keys to break off the foot that didn’t fit. What a great material!

Two weeks later, my living room is now packed with five dismantlable 30-by-80-inch free-standing panels, along with one very patient fiancé.


SOUNDSCORE

This piece largely revolves around the old idiom “The grass never grows under your feet,” meaning the person is ambitious and always on the move. They don’t have time to pause before the next project begins.

For a while now, I’ve envisioned beginning the work with a newscaster-style podcast playing to the sound of crazed typing, ending with the words “well I’ll tell you one thing… The grass never grows under her feet!” This would then be followed by the words “But what if I let it?” spoken from the mind of the soloist onstage.

This is all well and good, but where does this voice-over come from?

Taking pen to paper, I sculpted my own version of a prologue—a poetic stream of consciousness that at once combines the elements of fear and delight slowing down can bring us, while also drifting through the metaphor I’ve envisioned from the start. Here now is that poem, which will be read by the sultry-voiced Laura Castello:

The grass never grows under her feet... I hear—time, and time again...

But what if I let it?

What if I allowed the grass to consume me whole—wrapping around my arms and legs until I sink into the comforting bed of blades beneath me... Who would I be then? Awash in lush greenery, hiding my body, my mind, temporarily from view...

A moment to breathe—a moment.

A stopped clock gifting me with time to reconnect... Reaching through the tall grass to find a friend's hand, and reveling in the quiet joy of basic human connection.

But in truth? I think my greatest fear is that I'll be forgotten there, overgrown.

If honest—

I fear I'll disappear.


Those are the updates for now. Stay tuned for the final creation!

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