Each January, I reflect on the top ten professional highlights that furthered my work throughout the prior year. 2020 was a challenge for all of us, yet I am delighted to recognize that this year was no exception in furthering my growth as an artist in the fields of dance, film, and design.
Luminarium Dance Company celebrated its monumental 10-year anniversary this season, hosting and participating in both live and virtual events across Greater Boston and New Jersey. The year kicked off with generous funding from the Boston Cultural Council, who continues to support our community-engaged work, and ended with one of our most successful Year End Appeals to date. Thank you to our supporters, audience members, collaborators, mentors, and (most importantly) dancers for making our vision a reality all these years. When Kim Holman and I founded this company back in 2010, we chose "Luminarium" as a name, as its definition is two-fold, stemming from the word “luminary,” which is defined as “a body that gives off light,” and more importantly, “sheds light on some subject or enlightens mankind.” Today, we are now an award-winning contemporary dance company, regularly hailed for our unique combination of dance, light, and enlightenment, and we thank you for helping us achieve this position in the dance community.
|Merli V. Guerra's River Stories, 2020. Photo: Rider University.|
2. RIDER UNIVERSITY GUEST CHOREOGRAPHER
I was thrilled to return as a guest choreographer for Rider University's 2020 Rider Dances production, as the dance department's students are truly some of the most hard-working, dedicated undergraduates with whom I've had the pleasure of working. Using shimmering fabric and classical Odissi-inspired movement vocabulary, this commissioned work for nine dancers interweaves storytelling, spatial patterning, and intricate rhythmic precision while evoking a sunset reflecting on the river.
|Merli V. Guerra's ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQ—STUVWXYZ, 2020. Photo: John Evans.|
3. 2019-20 CULTURAL COMMUNITY OUTREACH PROJECT
I began the year continuing my work with Intellectual / Developmental Disability (I/DD) self-advocates across New Jersey. From September 2019 to March 2020, I conducted oral histories with these incredible people in collaboration with the Rutgers University MFA in Dance program and coLAB Arts organization. The resulting dance theatre work, ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQ—STUVWXYZ, calls attention to the struggles and accomplishments these self-advocates face. What daily dignities do we take for granted? What does "self-advocacy" mean to those in the I/DD community? Evoking moments of accomplishment and perseverance, ABC highlights the day-to-day overlaps of I/DD and neurotypical communities. This work was created in collaboration with Luminarium 2019 Satellite artists Paolo Arante, Emily Cornish, Nik Palivoda, Camilla Poniz, and Noah Teeling and served as Luminarium's annual Cultural Community Outreach Project. Stay tuned for future presentations of the work across the East Coast!
4. AWARD WINNER: LUMINARIUM'S "THE ONE I KEEP" WINS "BEST EXPERIMENTAL"
In a year when my personal travel plans were canceled, it was exciting to witness my screendance films continuing to travel the globe. The One I Keep (2013), performed by long-time Luminarium company member Jessica Chang, has been featured in international festivals and periodicals including: WomenCinemakers - Special Edition (Berlin, Germany), ViDEOSKiN (Yukon, Canada), Cefalù Film Festival (Palermo, Italy), Women in Dance Leadership Conference (Philadelphia, PA, USA), and now Europa Film Festival (Barcelona, Spain / Resistencia, Argentina), in which it was honored to receive the "Best Experimental" film category award. Excitingly, the Boston Globe published this news and highlighted me as a "gifted filmmaker"—thank you, Boston Globe!
5. DESIGNER: HEARTPLAY
Luminarium's company members are deeply gifted individuals whose talents extend beyond the theater. Long-time company member Katie McGrail is additionally the Children's Services Coordinator at Beth Israel Lahey Health at Home and Assistant Director of Camp Erin Boston. Through this work, and her work as the pre-school group leader for HEARTplay After-School and HEARTplay West, Katie referred me to the organization as a graphic and web designer back in 2019. Since then, it has been a delight working with Katie and Jennifer Wiles—Director of HEARTplay, Camp Erin Boston, and Children's Services at Beth Israel Lahey Health At Home—on HEARTplay's many brochure, mailing, and most recently, website needs. I rarely take on freelance web design projects these days, due to the sheer number of hours required for such projects, but redesigning websites for inspiring organizations such as HEARTplay brings me joy and satisfaction that is difficult to pass up. Not familiar with HEARTplay? Take a peek at their newly redesigned website!
6. AWARD WINNER: "FOR YOU, TO MENTOR ME" WINS TWO CATEGORIES OVERSEAS
In December 2019, I premiered my latest screendance film For you, to mentor me at Luminarium's Season 9 feature production Luminarium in Concert. I was thrilled when this year the film was screened by the international SounDance Film Festival in Spain and Argentina, where it was awarded "Best Choreography" and "Best Narrative Dance"! Hailed by SounDance Film Festival as "a film brimming with love, grace and sensitivity," For you, to mentor me follows a mother-daughter relationship shifting over time, featuring a multigenerational cast of women ages 4 to 60, and newborns 11 to 19 days. Dance and film are used to highlight a growing young woman's thirst for independence, and a mother's desire to nurture, guide, and mentor. The Boston Globe praised the film as "poignant," and I am grateful to continue sharing its message with both Greater Boston and the international film scene.
7. CHOREOFEST GOES NATIONAL
In May, Luminarium partnered with Monkeyhouse to co-produce a national version of Luminarium’s 24-Hour ChoreoFest, supported by Monkeyhouse's Covid Collaborations project. Not only was this year’s ChoreoFest fully virtual, but it was our largest ChoreoFest yet with four weeks of participants and guest speakers joining us from across the country. We loved seeing our supporters tune in each weekend, sending in questions and engaging in post-performance Q&As, and feeling like a community amidst the isolation of quarantine.
8. PRESENTER: NDEO 2020 NATIONAL CONFERENCE
In October, the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) hosted its 2020 National Conference. Along with my MFA colleagues Amber Hongsermeier and Kimberlee Gerstheimer, our presentation "Community Engagement: Exploring Benefits from an Historical, Practical, and Social Work-Based Approach" was selected for the conference. As dance artists and educators, we presented a three-pronged approach to community-engaged dance, discussing historical context, contemporary examples, necessary logistical tools, and reciprocal benefits of this field of creative work. Including movement and group discussion, our presentation examined the past, present, and future of community-engaged dance while highlighting examples of Luminarium's decade of community engaged programming, and we were grateful to our attendees for joining us in this important dialogue.
9. "THE ONE I KEEP" MAKES ITS PORTUGAL PREMIERE
Spain and Argentina weren't the only countries The One I Keep traveled to this past year. In October, it was screened at the 28th Quinzena de Dança de Almada International Dance Festival in Almada, Portugal. As our country continued to battle Covid-19 and navigate live performances and events, it was particularly moving and encouraging to see this international festival inviting viewers inside a physical theater, with our own film highlighted in the festival's promo reel! As the film's choreographer and cinematographer, I was asked to speak about this work for a special behind-the-scenes viewing for festival-goers, viewable here.
10. D&R CANAL PERFORMANCE
In a year with few in-person events, I was eager to work collaboratively with dance colleague (and 2020 ChoreoFest alum) Moriah Ella Mason on a site-specific outdoor work in Princeton, NJ. Throughout the summer and fall, we met on a wooden platform along the Delaware & Raritan Canal, generating choreographic material based on the canal's rich history. The final work, titled CANAL or Time is a Conveyor Belt and the Only Winners are these Basking Turtles, was created for both live performance and film, viewable from the trail across the water or by canoe / kayak from the canal itself. Thank you, Ella, for including me in this project!
11. MFA THESIS & CANDIDACY
I'm allowing myself an 11th item this year, as it's a large one: In October, I presented my MFA Thesis Prospectus for Rutgers University's faculty, staff, and my own thesis committee, and was thrilled to be promoted to candidacy. Each season, I lead Luminarium's Cultural Community Outreach Project (CCOP)—a custom-tailored annual event that integrates history, choreography, and the arts to celebrate a town’s cultural and historical landmarks. This year's project is a large-scale site-specific installation performance spanning 2020 through 2021 that focuses on the storied history of the colonnade at Princeton Battlefield State Park in Princeton, NJ, and it doubles as my thesis research for my MFA in Dance. The production will be presented in April 2021 using Augmented Reality to immerse visitors inside a series of choreographic works inspired by this history, and currently features the return of Luminarium Satellite company members Gabriella Boes, Victoria Kreutzer, and Nikola Palivoda, along with new Satellite members Dane Burch, Anna Fredeen, and Elizabeth Malone. It is one of the most challenging CCOPs I've tackled thus far, and equally engaging to work on as an artist. Stay tuned for further developments in 2021!