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, February 5, 2017


I’m hooked.

On what?, you might ask. On glass.

There are so many elements of glass that excite me: How its texture can vary from silky to rough to sharp; how it can take a beam of light and dissolve it into an array of colors; how it can magnify or minimize; how it can encapsulate air bubbles; and how it’s actually an amorphous solid. All of these properties captivate me, and have for years.

Marblehead, MA.
My brother shows off the perfect gradient rainbow of colors he's found in one afternoon, including the ever-sought-after red sea glass. 

In trying to pinpoint when it began, I realize now that I can’t quite find a start. Was it when playing with my dad’s case of telescope lenses, overlapping the different circles of colored glass while carefully avoiding touching the surface? Or was it while looking for sea glass on the beach with my family in the summer, learning the chemistry (and more importantly the history) behind every color, every piece? Or maybe it was watching it being worked with for the first time, sitting on a bench in the sweltering studio at Simon Pearce in Vermont, studying skilled artisans as they turned glowing orbs into smooth, crystalline stemware.

Now we are here. Co-choreographed by Merli V. Guerra and Kimberleigh A. Holman, 2012. Photo: Jim Coleman.

Throughout my professional career, I’ve used glass as both a medium with which to work and an inspiration from which to conceptualize—from the glowing bulbs of Andromeda to the finger-smudged window panes of Now we are here. Now, as I head into a new project with the Fuller Craft Museum, I have been given an opportunity to create a "breathing installation" of dance and art that revolves solely around glass itself.

In an effort to research this topic up close (and because she knows me and my interests better than nearly anyone), Kim surprised me with possibly my favorite gift to date: A glass blowing class for two, and a scribbled note about how the person I brought didn't have to be her. (Please! As if it wouldn't be.)

Three months later, there we were: standing awkwardly in a class of four as our chill instructor casually meandered through us with a slowly dripping glob of molten glass on the end of a metal tube. As beginners, we were given the options of garden ball, paperweight, or pumpkin. I found myself staring into the intricately detailed swirls of color trapped inside each paperweight, as if tiny planets sitting on a shelf, and knew I had to create one. So did Kim, though her interest seemed to be focused more so on the satisfying feeling of rolling the paperweight around in her hands. (Again, as if this wouldn't be the case.)

Having both chosen to create a paperweight, I was struck by the heat I felt not only from the ovens but from the glass itself. My knuckles felt uncomfortably close to burning as I held a board against Kim's glass to help her shape it into a sphere, much like reaching just a little too far into a campfire to toast that last marshmallow.

As for color, we were surprised to find large buckets of tiny colored chips that we would roll our clear glass through. Our instructor helped us determine the right proportion of chips to give us the different looks we were aiming to achieve. Taking mine out of the kiln, I was a bit over zealous when told I could add air bubbles and twists with a large pair of tongs next to me—I was just so eager to witness for myself how malleable it was! Cooling quickly, the glass went from feeling like a chewed piece of gum to crystalized honey, and it took surprising effort to pry it into shape.

Two days later, it was time to head back to the studio in search of our fully cooled paperweights. The results speak for themselves:

Kim's "Ursula-the-seawitch-the-paperweight."

Merli's "Earth, as seen from the atmosphere."

So here we are, a few weeks later, and I'm still thinking daily about what could be next in my glass explorations. I'm 100% smitten with the medium, and only half-joking with Kim that one of us should build a kiln in the basement (perhaps the one who doesn't currently have a security deposit?). From broken on the floor, to fully formed on my shelf, to washed ashore as glowing pebbles, glass always catches my eye with beauty, light, and intrigue.

Till the next time, Glass...