Sunday, November 30, 2014

Behind-the-Scenes: From Director Kimberleigh Holman's Sketchbook

I have some weird and amusing dreams.  As a child and preteen I frequently had a repeating dream in which I canoed through water-filled highways to a house where two vampires in full slapstick fashion would each try to convince me the other was the ‘bad guy’.  Someone decode that, please. I currently have precognitive dream experiences on a frequent basis, which will never cease to freak me out.  However strange my dream process is, the thread that ties it all together is that while dreaming I always feel incredibly coherent in my choices and I most always have a task to accomplish. I’m always in control and invested in what I'm doing, but I could never explain why I was doing it or for what purpose in the dream moment. Lucid and yet not lucid, all at once.

Some early images from Kim's notebook.
Piece beginnings (left) and some sketched thoughts on the space and scenic elements (above).

Fast forward to conception stages of The Sleeprunner.  I was fairly convinced I wanted to do a piece that described the feeling detailed above.   More specifically I wanted to explore a sort of journey dream where one is traveling through an unknown landscape while trying to accomplish a vital goal.  

Instantly I had images and a scenario pop into my head; when my husband and I travelled to Maui for the first time we were instructed to drive up a well-known inactive volcano to watch the most incredible sunrise of our lives.  What I didn’t realize was that seemingly easy task was all based on waking up around 2-3am to drive to the other end of the island and up this massive volcano.  If you know me, you know my difficulty with early mornings, but my incredibly good-tempered husband woke me up and somehow got me to the car where I drifted groggily in and out of sleep as we drove.  I got tiny glimpses of our dark surroundings, but continuously fell back into my dreams.  Just the feeling of drifting in and out of sleep while setting out to accomplish the mission of catching a sunrise on top of a volcano - all amidst very unique terrain - was incredibly absurb... especially so when topped off with watching a sunrise and a lighting storm from above the clouds, on a mountain top that resembled Mars (or at least photos I’ve seen of Mars).

Screen shot from rehearsal footage for An Obscure Journey,
The Sleeprunner
When we got to work on An Obscure Journey (Sleeprunner Scene 4) in the studio, I attempted to create the piece under the same conditions as my vague traveling dreams and my bizarre Maui experience.  I restricted information on the journey itself from the dancers, while encouraging them to desperately want to go along on the trip.  On a whim I ripped up a tee-shirt before one rehearsal to use as blindfolds, restricting their sight, and loved the moments of risky wobbly dancing on an otherwise resolute journey.  Later in the process I added a master manipulator figure who would be located far above the dancers as they traversed the space, to give the journey an even more obscured but important task. 

Phew!  I’m very curious to observe the audience as this piece unravels, and to hear their thoughts.  While vague and mysterious, far different from the ridiculous and wild moon piece I’ve most recently been working on (that one would require its own blog post!), I hope viewers pick up a certain sense of suspension as the dancers perform their quest across the space and equal euphoria as tasks are accomplished.  Let your need for clarity go, just for a moment, and join us on An Obscure Journey.

See you at the show!!


Kimberleigh Holman, Artistic Director

Screen shots from rehearsal footage, An Obscure Journey

December 5 . 6 . 12 . 13 @ 8pm
Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge MA

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Behind-the-Scenes: From Director Merli V. Guerra's Sketchbook

For those of you who attended Luminarium's 4th Anniversary Gala & Showcase back in June, you may remember seeing your first sneak peek of The Sleeprunner, with a solo set on Katie McGrail, revealed from underneath a sheet as she struggles to sleep.

When I first set this solo I didn't yet anticipate that it would continue beyond the two minutes Katie then performed. It wasn't until my third week into being Green Street Studios' pilot Choreographer in Residence (in tandem with Kim) that I was able to delve further into the realm of sleep vs. sleeplessness. With mentors Jean D'Urbano and Wendy Lawson present for my weekly showing, I performed a new solo, and the three of us discussed at length the bigger picture questions of where we go when we sleep, who we are in that moment, and how this solo could be extrapolated into a larger group. Thus began my new quartet Insomni.

Gabriella Pacheco and Katie McGrail in rehearsal for Insomni, Scene II of The Sleeprunner.

For anyone who knows me, Sleep and I have never had a stable relationship. As a child I had night terrors, as a teen my parents frequently found me sleepwalking in circles around the kitchen table, in college I was teased relentlessly for my full-out comatose conversations in the middle of the night, and now as an adult I am consistently battling my way to sleep after hours of tossing and turning--trying to "shut off" my creative brain. In fact, it wasn't until about nine months ago that I once got a night of sleep so solid that I woke up in the morning to find the air in front of me eerily crystal clear and my brain fully charged--an incredible feeling that I will probably be chasing for the next quarter century!

How does this relate...well, as a choreographer I find that I am often driven to create new work symbolically. My forte is not in the movements themselves, but rather in the thoughts behind them, driving them. For this new work, I came into the studio with only a vague sense of who these three other dancers were as they crawled onstage from the shadows to join Katie in her fretful slumber. Yet as my work with Amy, Rose, and Gabby unfolded, I began to find myself somewhat confused by these strange little "sleep gremlins" as I affectionately called them, and found myself struggling to understand why I was compelled to create these characters, and why Katie at moments was allowed to coax them into slumber themselves. It was not until a fresh set of eyes peering over my shoulder led to a description that has since helped me finish the work: "You know," he said, "this reminds me of the hierarchy of thoughts that keeps my brain from quieting down when I'm trying to go to sleep." Ah ha--hierarchy! (Thank you, Sean Connolly.) With this new way in which to view my own work, I now knew how to approach my dancers, promptly telling Katie to think of Gabby as "that simple chore you can easily check off the list washing that dish in the sink." I then pegged Rose as the next tier ("doing your laundry") and handed Amy the title of Head Sleep Gremlin ("doing your taxes"). With this new hierarchy of gremlinage in place, the five of us confidently and swiftly banged out the final seven minutes of the piece.

Katie McGrail finds herself caught in a struggle against the Sleep Gremlins of her brain...
Insomni, Scene II of The Sleeprunner.

So while I won't leave you with the ending (sorry, you'll have to come see the show to see how the Gremlin vs. Katie battle plays out), I'll give you one final fun behind-the-scenes trick to viewing Insomni when it debuts December 5th. I gave myself a new choreographic challenge (or rubric, really) while working on this quartet. In order to further enhance the feeling of being stranded between sleep and sleeplessness, whenever the hands are guiding the dancers' movements, the right hand is always the instigator while the left hand is calming the dancer back to sleep. It may sound like a nitpicky detail, but it creates for the performer a sense of duality within the body as one side consistently awakens as the other attempts to relax... And now it will be our little secret (for those of you who read this entry) to keep your eye out for this as you watch the scene unfold!

Enjoy the show,

Merli V. Guerra, Artistic Director

December 5 . 6 . 12 . 13 @ 8pm
Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge MA

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Behind-the-Scenes: Costume sketches by NY designer Sueann Leung

Luminarium's long-awaited 2014 feature production is bringing with it several "firsts" for the company. For starters, the show has expanded to a two-week run in an effort to make the work more accessible to Luminarium's growing audience. It is also the first time co-directors Guerra and Holman have presented a production intended to be viewed as a singular joint work. Yet the most stunning "first" of all has to be the costumes...

Sueann Leung is a New York-based costume designer and the Costume Director of Opera Roanoke. She studied Costume Design and Gender Studies at Mount Holyoke College, where she met Luminarium founders Kim and Merli. Fascinated by the links between sartorial signifiers and the creation and recreation of one's various identities, the fusion of her two fields of study is often reflected in her work. She first designed for Luminarium’s Agonía in 2011 and is delighted to collaborate with them once again. She has been featured in a number of fashion columns, most notably The Wall Street Journal.

Behind-the-Scenes with Sueann Leung:

How do you create a dreamworld? What does a dreamworld look like? In my early conversations with Kim and Merli, I suggested we make an inspiration board as a way to visually explore and get a feel for this world we hoped to create. You can see it here:

Using this as my jumping off point, I began to formulate a language for the costumes. They would be:
  • ephemeral 
  • fractured 
  • turbulent 
  • surreal 
  • deteriorating 
  • soft 
  • murky 
  • seeping 
  • simultaneously floating and submerged
I landed on this for my color palette:

And because The Sleeprunner delicately shifts back and forth between the worlds of waking and dreaming—muddling the line between reality and fantasy, I wanted the costumes to reflect that journey as well. Each costume has a base of various shades and textures of white like clean canvases. Just as we drift off to sleep and our unraveling subconscious starts to fade into our mind’s eyes, soft comforting ephemeral hues seep into the costumes, punctuated with a menacing undercurrent of darkness.

Still sewing away, but I cannot wait for you all to enter the world we have created!


December 5 . 6 . 12 . 13 @ 8pm
Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge MA

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Night at the Tower: A huge success

The final stage of receiving an LCC grant in Massachusetts is to document the event we produced by providing proof of its completion (and in this case, it's overwhelming success!) via supplying the council with images, videos, testimonials, and press. Normally, this is a fairly simple step, and serves as a clean wrap-up to the community outreach event we've just completed. This time, we have been so inundated with materials surrounding Night at the Tower that Merli instead decided to gather them all up in one place: Both for the council to review (hello, ACC!), and for our friends and supporters to enjoy as well. After all, why not celebrate the conclusion of our very successful 2014 Cultural Community Outreach Program with everyone?


Due to an epic storm on our scheduled date of Saturday, Sept 6, this event was ultimately held on Sunday, Sept 7 from 7-9pm at the water tower of Park Circle in Arlington Heights, MA.

Creator: This project was created and led by Merli V. Guerra, local Arlington resident and Artistic Director/co-founder of Luminarium Dance Company.

Performers: Luminarium Company Members Rose Abramoff, Melenie Diarbekirian, Nikki Girroir, Merli V. Guerra, Jessica Jacob, Amy Mastrangelo, Katie McGrail, Gabby Pacheco

Choreography: Merli V. Guerra and Kimberleigh A. Holman

Dance-on-camera films: Merli V. Guerra and Kimberleigh A. Holman

Special thanks: This program was made possible thanks to grants from the Arlington Cultural Council and The Bob Jolly Charitable Trust. Special thanks to the Arlington Center for the Arts for providing 75 images from the Images of Arlington collection, featuring images of Arlington by Arlington children and adults over the past 10 years. Thanks also to Zebbler Studios and Ben Rudnick & Friends for projector and sound equipment.


Many thanks to Maria Fonseca for the following gorgeous images of our event:

Thanks also to Kathleen Fink for capturing our event through her beautiful photos as well:


Below are a few small samples of what the evening had to offer...

Sound effects - Audience participants created sound effects over the speakers as our dancers interpreted:

Numbers Game: Our youngest volunteers enjoyed acting as "directors," shouting out numbers that set the dancers into different patterns of motion:

As the night grew dark, the dancers paid homage to the aquarian nature of the water tower in Guerra's newly created work, The Paint Piece (shown here is the final excerpt):


Throughout this entire process, we were fortunate to receive excellent press both from regional papers and the local television station. Check out our interview on APN below and enjoy these articles previewing and reviewing the event!

Preview Article: Lighting up the night
Eileen Kennedy
Front page article, Arlington Advocate
August 24, 2014

Eileen Kennedy
Front page article, Arlington Advocate
September 12, 2014

Review Article: Water tower goes widescreen: An Arlington first
Bob Sprague
September 10, 2014


We cannot thank the community enough for being so supportive of this project. We are so grateful to all who sent us their thoughts after the production. Below is just a small sampling of what we received:

"Thank you for bringing an excellent event, at the water tower, to the community of Arlington!"
John C., Arlington MA

"truly an amazing combination of creativity!"
Rebecca C., Arlington MA

"Last night was truly magnificent! I was amazed, awed, inspired and entertained. Your vision was truly manifest and the fact that you had to hold to that vision as all manner of obstacles came your way is even more impressive. So much strength. And it was so special the outcome. The images so big and beautiful, moving, gorgeous and so perfectly projected onto the water tower had an epic feel. The dancers, the choreography, the art, the music, the stars all came together to create beauty. And it was just so fun sitting outside, enjoying the fun of seeing the children and your company members share movement and spontaneity. I love the way you not only included the children but the entire community both as creators of the art you projected and honoring the town of Arlington in such a creative fun way in the projections. It was a feast. Bravo!"
Deborah A., Lexington MA

"What a crowd you gathered for your water tower performance! I loved how you used the water tower as your venue--beautiful! My favorite part was the work you created for the water tower--when the paintings went up and you danced in front of them . . . What an impressive community builder you are! Another highlight for me was overhearing a tiny little girl running up to her mother after the shadow dancing and saying "Did you see me?! Did you see me?!" Adorable. That was one happy little girl!"
Hadassah S., Cambridge MA

"Last night's event at the water tower was spectacular. I found myself gasping when the artwork was projected onto the tower as the dancers were performing down below. What an innovative idea! I hope this gets repeated again."
Maria F., Arlington MA

All materials © Luminarium Dance Company 2014.

Supported in part by a grant through the Arlington Cultural Council, a local agency, which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Friday, August 8, 2014

2014 ChoreoFest hourly report!


We're busy here at ChoreoFest--Our annual 24-hour festival in Cambridge MA. Read below to find out what we're all doing, thinking, dancing, (sleeping?). Enjoy!

11pm: Monkeyhouse

by karen Krolak

I dug two themes out of the Anthropologie bag of ideas: Inifinite Regression and Missed Connections. Strangely both of these topics meshed with the added suggestions that our supporters had sent to us via facebook this week: Triangulation, Canine Agility Training, and the Revere Tornado.

Where to begin on this next part? A text message to a friend this afternoon, a friend who has been watching and encouraging my work for over twenty years now. He said, "I think you just typed the line that should be your inspiration for the piece...'I am doing much better though' which could transition from 'I have been such a mess." Then he continued, "I know your instinct would be to focus on the 'I am such a mess' part of the piece but in this case I might start with the ending and work the way back." It was a fabulous structure to tie our ideas around.

I could blather on with more stories of what has evolved in the last three hours but I need to get back to the studio before things begin to unravel.

1am: i'm nicole with the chifferobe tropigals and i am:
drinking coffee
excited to continue
being pressured to write more by tropigal amanda


2am: This is Tyler Catanella here with Monkeyhouse. My company Paradise Lost participated in the ChoreoFest last year, and I'm having a very different (but still wonderful) experience with the event from the perspective of a collaborator. The mental exhaustion is much less than when I was leading and organizing my own company's piece, but the bodily pains and pangs have been kicked up a knotch this time around. I am thoroughly enjoying the Monkeyhouse process; their theatricality and improv-composition methods feel very familiar to the way I work with my company. Also, I think I've figured out a wonderful lil' ChoreoFest secret: if you don't stop eating, you don't get tired! Tah-daaah!

I am having a wonderful time back here in the Dance Complex connecting with some familiar faces, and remembering how much this event changed me as a choreographer exactly one year ago. This is the best marathon for any dance artist out there. I am eternally grateful, Luminarium!

Let's get yarnin' in the DC, Monkeyhouse!


this is nikki from luminarium.
the bagel bread sticks are amazing. having a blast. it is currently 2:36 so sorry for having improper grammar. Going back to work!! :)
xoxo gossip girl (nikki)

Currently it is 3:49 and I have been given permission to SLEEP IT IS A MIRACLE but there is serious concern I won't wake up for tech and that doesn't quite work if I sleep for the entirety of the piece.  Maybe the first minute.  We get to lie on a bed and yell into a fan and scurry around on a doily. I swear it all makes sense when you see it.
Aisha (Monkeyhouse (verytired(veryexcited)))


Oh heeeeey.
Lipstick Criminals here. We're in the home stretch, on our third or fourth wind. We've gone from super serious to super punchy and slapstick-y with our theme and choreo and we're getting sleepy... (it's after 4am) but we're gonna nail this thing to the wall, do some yoga, and get some zzzzs so we're ready to rock in a couple hours! Hope to see you in the audience!


It's Kim of Luminarium Dance!  It's just before 5am and we might be finished with our work.  This roughly translates to I will change everything in the morning on these poor merciful dancers.  I'm not sure how much brain power is left, but we just nixed the plan to have everyone wear drop-crotch pants which I think is a good sign.  Rose is helping me with a little voice recording and we are getting punchy, and now is the time I wonder whether my piece is the tiniest bit dumb, or a good manifestation of the theme we pulled ("logical fallacies"... thanks, Mark Kranz).  We are doing a little visual wacky philosophy lesson and just having fun.  This is the time every year where I feel totally fortunate to call this my job, as I galavant through the halls of the Dance Complex.  There is so much diverse awesome happening in the building!

Please come to the Culminating Concerts to support the creative process.  More so this year than any other I am recognizing the importance of process, communication, community and spirit.  That sounds a bit lame, but if you were locked in with us you'd understand!


10am: Good morning, World! Merli here, another AD of Luminarium and the videographer of ChoreoFest. It has been such a blast once again having the excuse of filming to get a closer glimpse into the creative process of each group pushing through this festival. Whether started by concept, text, movement, or improv, these works speak to the abundance of creativity possible when given 12 hours to play/work in the studio, with another 12 to stage these freshly sculpted pieces. Congratulations to everyone involved, and for our readers at home, come join us! 2pm and 4pm. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From Our Notebooks: Early sketches of "Night at the Tower"

Merli's been hard at work on Luminarium's Night at the Tower project happening later this season. Check out this blog post chronicling her thoughts along the way!

Merli V. Guerra

Time for some simple sketches!

Each season, Luminarium creates a new body of work centered around a previously-untapped cultural landmark through the integration of dance and the arts. In 2012, it was the Celebration of Preservation Project at the centennial anniversary of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House (Concord MA), and in 2013, it was the Threading Motion Project at the New England Quilt Museum (Lowell MA).

Now, as Luminarium's 2014 Season continues to pick up speed, I find myself hurtling towards one of the most complicated projects I've taken on to date: The Water Tower Project (or as Luminarium has now marketed it, "Night at the Tower"). In short, my goal is to transform the water tower at Park Circle (Arlington MA) into a breathing work of art, through dance and artistic film projections, while accentuating the architecture of this local landmark. The support we've received both within and beyond the Arlington Cultural Council is inspiration enough! And now that we have our date set (Saturday, September 6, 7-9pm . Park Circle, Arlington MA) and a new-found appreciation and understanding of local government (Ask me about it sometime...), it's now time to consider, construct, and create.

Please enjoy these early thoughts and sketches of the project, and if you have contacts or suggestions for ways to make this happen to the level that it's playing out in my head, please reach out! Leave a comment below, or write me at mguerra (at)

A very early sketch from the start of the season, showing
the dancers performing on the path along the front of the
tower, and (maybe??) some inside the tower's overlook!

"Digital sketches" of the Water Tower Project:

Ideally, I'm looking for a short-throw projector that can
cover the entire front surface of the tower. Among the pieces
I plan to project, last year's film The One I Keep is a work
that I feel would look beautiful in this space, with its
thousands of pieces of paper flying up and out the tower walls.

Through the help of Linda Shoemaker at the Arlington
Center for the Arts, I'll be creating a video feed devoted
to the impact of the tower on the town. This series will
combine early photographs from the 1920s (when the tower
was built) along with the ACA's collection of artwork depicting
the tower through the eyes and minds of Arlington's professionals
and children over the years. Viewers will have the chance
to see their own artwork stretched across the tower's walls!

Performative digital sketch:

And of course, no new project would be complete without
the creation of one entirely new work. My mind has been
bubbling for quite some time, but in the end, I think I have
settled on a new work involving projections of bright,
dripping watercolors cascading down the tower, with our
dancers performing an equally vibrant piece below. Perhaps
last year's colorful umbrellas can also once again join the mix?

Luminarium's Night at the Tower will be held Saturday, September 6, 7-9pm, at the water tower at Park Circle, Arlington MA--Just off Rt. 2!

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