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.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sorry, Sean. You're stuck with me.

The not-very-Merli wedding bouquet I was gifted pre-Ubering.

Not long after getting engaged, my friend Jenny set us wise to the wonders of engagement events hosted by venues throughout Boston as a ploy to lure young couples into their pricey grasps. One such event—at a venue I’ll refrain from revealing—threw quite the impressive shindig, complete with full buffets on every floor and open bars around every corner. Having been kind to the florist in attendance, Sean and I were handed their display flowers at the end of the night: a boutonnière for an already dapper-looking Sean, and a luscious bouquet for me. Hugging Jenny goodnight, we hopped into the back of our Uber shared ride, and proceeded to head to the driver’s next pickup. An older woman soon climbed into the front seat, did a doubletake at the two of us—dressed to the nines and flowers in hand—and finally asked “I’m sorry but…did the two of you just get married?” Sean laughed and shook his head as I immediately blurted, “It’s so funny you ask! I was just telling Sean we’ve got the flowers and look amazing…why not get married tonight?” “Well what are the odds,” our stranger replied, “I’m a minister!” “And I’m a witness,” chimed in our otherwise grumpy driver.

At this point, I apparently turned wide-eyed to Sean who, ever the voice of reason, calmly reminded me that “everyone we know would kill us.” Recognizing defeat, I thanked our fellow passenger, and continued to smile in the dark at the thought of a spontaneous, cost-free wedding.


Over the years, I’ve seen friends post their thoughts on weddings, be it their own or in response to society’s view of them in general. Some view it as a chance to realize their childhood fantasies of the “perfect, magical day;” some deem it a religious necessity; and others argue that getting married isn’t an “accomplishment” and should not be exalted as such. Whatever your own views may be, here are my own: I agree that marriage is not an accomplishment, but I do view it as one of the most important commitments one can make (or not make, if that’s your choice!). It is the formal recognition that not only have you found someone you value to the point of sharing your life with them, but also that you agree to be their partner emotionally and physically from this day onward.

Personally, I never dreamed of my wedding. I never crooned over wedding dress magazines or thought about how I’d style my hair. In fact, I downright laughed when one popular wedding website (who bought my email from who knows who) sent me an Urgent Reminder! that my wedding was only 365 days away and in order to stand any chance of looking beautiful for my ceremony, it was imperative that I start my wedding beauty regimen now! Can you imagine? 365 days of torture! But I digress… No, for me the perfect marriage—I thought at the time—was a quiet, simple, meaningful elopement, sharing my vows with Sean and Sean alone, outdoors surrounded by the sounds of nature and the eyes and ears of only the one marrying us. My fiancé on the other hand, was the one who had selected his groomsmen back in middle school; had visions of me walking down the aisle in a white dress; and represented our friends and families' pleas for a traditional wedding.

My view from the barn, early Saturday morning. Those gorgeous deep blue-gray clouds soon drifted away before returning at the end of the ceremony.

They say marriage is often about compromise, so compromise we did. I got my outdoor ceremony (on an alpaca farm, no less!), and everyone else got the rest. Yet the kicker is this: I loved every minute of it. Maybe it was the quiet Vermont setting, or the last-minute drop in numbers on our guest list, but our ceremony actually did feel quite intimate. I found myself turning to my friends standing by me and my family and framily in the rows along the lawn, laughing as Sean and I displayed our clear differences as people—him: earnest, meticulous, and at times, cautious; me: gregarious, spontaneous, and at times, impatient—and choking up as Sean revealed his secret ability to kick my ass at writing vows. 

The totally-Merli wedding bouquet I was thrilled to carry. Shout out to Fast Pony Flowers for creating the most insanely stunning bouquet I've ever held, and for answering my initial outreach email with "Haphazard is my specialty." Thank you, Melissa!

So although I didn’t have my Uber-ride elopement, I did have the perfect wedding. Sean and I made a good team, from site visits to tastings to décor planning, and those who attended or sent their love from afar made the weekend that much more powerful. Even Mother Nature gave us each what we desired: for Sean, a rich blue sky with a few puffy white clouds (his exact request), and for me, a sudden deluge of rain as our guests raced inside the reception barn, while Sean and I laughed our way through fields and covered bridges. Compromise at its finest.

Another shout out to our incredible weather-defying photographer Somerby Jones!

In the end, I am grateful. Grateful to Sean for committing to a lifetime of shenanigans with me, and for pushing me to include our incredible network of friends and family in this important life event; grateful to my family for making it financially possible for us to spend an entire weekend visiting with our guests (nothing felt rushed, and no one felt missed); grateful to our amusingly renegade officiant Wayne for balancing humor with solemnity; and grateful to all those closest to us who took the time out of their busy lives to travel to middle-of-nowhere Vermont and celebrate this commitment. Truly, I could not have asked for a better partner, nor a better way to legally kick off our partnership.

To everyone in my life: Thank you. To Sean: Let’s do this!

Friday, August 18, 2017

From Dusty & Dated to Clean & Current: DIY Hutch Makeover


When Katie and I first moved into our Arlington MA apartment back in 2013, we found ourselves with a considerable increase in living space, particularly thanks to the addition of a beautiful dining room. With my plate collection spilling out into the pantry, and our cupboards filling up quickly, you can imagine my glee when I came across this beauty at a nearby tag sale for a local cause.

My old and battered hutch, standing in the Arlington apartment, featuring my grandmother's china and photos of both Katie's family and mine.

The owner of the hutch was incredibly kind, offering to not only drive it back to my apartment up the road (when my parents' car turned out to be too small to fit it), but helping my dad carry it up the winding staircase. Had my parents not be there to help me bring it in, my interaction with the seller would have ended there, but—being the ever-proud mother she is—before I knew it, my mom had begun bragging about my recent trip to Indian as a lead performer with a local dance company. "That wouldn't happen to be Deborah Abel Dance Company, would it?" he asked, "My daughter studies at Deborah's school!" From there, the conversation built with laughter and story sharing, as he explained that this old hutch had served its purpose loyally for many years before being repurposed as a storage unit for his kids' arts and crafts. Not surprisingly, I spent the remainder of the day picking glitter out of crevices, and scraping paint off of drawers, while my friend Anna sat in a chair next to me stitching shimmery beading onto her latest dress. An homage to arts and crafts, indeed!

The dark stained hutch stood regally alongside my antique hutch and table, giving our dining room a formal, sophisticated vibe for our three years in Arlington. Upon moving to Sean and my first home in Brighton, it became clear our furniture collection wasn't fitting together very well, and when the news came that we'd be relocating to New Jersey, it seemed like the appropriate time to put certain items out on the street for free taking, while finally treating ourselves to a few new items.

And in the middle of this "out with the old; in with the new" cleansing, stood the hutch. Realizing that new or refurbished farmhouse-style hutches run anywhere from roughly $800 to $2000, I set out to give this poor thing yet another new life on my own—this time with a refreshingly bright and current look.


While every item on here was display worthy, their tiny sizes quickly added up to unintentional clutter.

Deep gouges everywhere...

...as well as stubborn paint and glitter!

And some dated, scratched up hardware.


Step 1: Kick out the terrible, warped backing to replace with more modern beadboard.

Step 2: Thanks to our excellent friend Russell, we were able to borrow an electric sander! Looking back at my desk refurb project, I can't believe my week of sanding by hand could have been accomplished in 40 minutes.

Step 3: My first experience with chalk paint! I chose Opera Gown by Valspar (and no, they did not pay me—I'm mostly writing this down for my own knowledge later).

It wasn't until I finished painting (of course!) that I decided I just couldn't live with that old-fashioned valance on the hutch. Solution? Call Russell again and bribe him with a bag of candy to cut off the "frills" and leave it as a simple curve. Thanks, Russell!

Yup, this hardware—while gorgeous on my antique secretary desk—had to go.

Step 4: After staining the top with Minwax Golden Oak (again, wish I was getting free samples, but sadly I'm just an enthusiastic amateur), it was coming across far too orange in comparison to the blue/gray paint. It also looked too bright! So I set out to darken it up, tone down the orange hues, and give it a slightly more weathered feel by layering Jacobean and Weathered Oak.


Back outside with the hutch, the freshly cut valance already looks so much cleaner!

Step 5: After cutting, it turned out the original valance wasn't as evenly shaped as I originally thought, so it took some careful sanding to shape each curve to mirror the other.

Step 6: Last but not least, the back! Took some finagling to fit it into place, but it's 100 times cleaner, brighter, and more solid than its flimsy, warped predecessor.

— AFTER — 
Ta da! Here she is—adding a warm and inviting touch to our new New Jersey dining room.

Finally, the finished piece!

Sean's "evoo" and "vin" pourers have found their place.

The new hardware came to us by surprise—while wandering the Blueberries & Bluegrass Festival in Peddler's Village, PA, we came across a hardware shop with the perfect knobs and pulls!

Finally, my serving tray and beautiful Merula olive oil have a perfect home, reflecting the colors of the buffet beneath them!

To give the tea kettle a little extra height, we sat it on a box (we quickly emptied) that once held french chocolate liqueurs, gifted to us on one of my dad's trips. A nice reminder of family and our time in Paris.

The teapot and cups themselves are a souvenir—bought on our trip to Napa, and made by local artisans using glazes created from vineyard ashes when the land needs cleansing. Another beautiful reminder of our love of traveling.

Remember what was here before? I removed the old drawer to instead use it as a functional display shelf for our clean white plates!

Sean's the cook; I'm handy with a hammer. We complement each other pretty damn well.

And look at all that storage!

So there it is—my hutch makeover. Enjoy this before-and-after image below, and we hope to keep this beautiful piece for a long, long time.

Dusty & Dated turned Clean & Current