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REVIEW: Somerville Café Blog

Secrets Come to Light: Luminarium’s “Secrets in Motion”

Jessica Ellen Monk

Somerville Café Blog

September 17, 2013


“Three can keep a secret if two of them are are dead.”

“I don’t know. I’m afraid that they might kill me. Always” – the words buckled as Kimberleigh Holman projected them across the body of her dancer, emerging from the shadows, scratching unintelligible designs on the ground. The dancer’s compulsive need to write and her fear of something unknown – maybe her own secret – reminded us that secrets feed on open communication. If a secret is a form of possession, then the hoarding of information cannot exist without the willingness to share.

That was “Neck-Deep (and then some)”, one of the more jarring pieces on the program at Luminarium’s fall show “Secrets in Motion.” Merli Guerra’s “The One I Keep” was lighter but also very relevant in today’s world of oversharing and surveillance. And Merli wanted to make sure she had a personal stake in a piece about how we choose what we share. To visually represent this she blasted her dancer, Jess Chang, with words on paper, like swarms of tiny fighter jets.


She could have used recycled paper, but instead she opted to mix a double-bluff punch of material stripped from her public blog combined with some very private personal revelations.

This video installation, the last piece on the program, ended with a strange twist that was also a very deliberate statement: The words, “I wasn’t asleep” were all that the audience saw of Merli’s secret as the piece of paper seemed to stick to Jess by chance before she popped it into her mouth and ate it. Merli and Kim felt a little awkward about making their poor dancer unpleasantly chew and swallow the piece of paper. But it was the most efficient way to get rid of that one secret that Merli never told. And you get the impression that Luminarium’s dancers are troopers who expect to be assigned strange missions every now and again. It’s part of the fun of working with a dance company who push the boundaries between dance and other art-forms.

As artists working within several disciplines themselves, Luminarium often collaborate with other creative types. This time Hannah Verlin’s “Veil” – a single sheet of translucent latex – was suspended from the ceiling of the Armory, inscribed with the words from the 1785 diary of Martha Ballard, a healer and midwife. There was also an exhibition of the work of Larry Pratt, a fine-art photographer who shot Luminarium’s dancers during production. But the biggest collaboration of the show was with the public, who submitted their secrets through Luminarium’s website.

Kim outdid Prism, mining reams of volunteer’s secrets for the purely benevolent purposes of gaining inspiration, and using the secrets to project anonymous fragments. For Merli, the project began earlier this year when she became fascinated with the Japanese O-bon festival and the ritual of floating lanterns containing messages for the souls of the dead. “I had regrets from about ten years’ ago” she said plainly of the ritual’s healing significance for her. The name was born after she discovered that the word “Hush” meant both to silence and to soothe. This summer “Hush” was performed at the Forest Hills Lantern Festival. At the Armory pairs of dancers inside and outside illuminated boxes seemed to guide each other through the phases of a dreamlike process. In an automatic trance, these groggy pairs helped each other out of their confined or sleeping states. The Chinese lantern theme explained the movements of dancers crouching low, who looked as if they were being borne away from their partners over a body of water.

For the deadly, political side of secrets, “A Secret in Three Phases” was a blackly comic piece that Kim framed with the Benjamin Franklin quote: “Three can keep a secret if two of them are are dead.” It began with what looked like a crime scene and ended in a cut-throat brawl. The three dancers conspired to steal important looking leather-bound notebooks from each other and the secret within these notebooks was as divisive as money. All three dancers flopped down at the end of the piece, like children worn out from playing. The secret had claimed three causalities but still no one knew what it was. Even the production team were in the dark – Kim never told – and Ariane in the box office became so obsessed with the mystery of the secret, that she wrote a short story about what it might be.

There were tormenting secrets, there were divisive secrets, there were healing secrets, but there were also sad secrets. Kim choreographed the duet “For You, I” for Merli and Melanie Diarbekirian, to make use of the dancers’ similar movements. Merli and Melanie are old friends who grew up dancing together, so the piece is a debate between two people who mirror each other’s movements and yet seem unable to reveal something important to each other.

During the process of making of “The One I Keep”, Merli found that words from sentences she didn’t recognize leaped out at her. She saw them for the first time, isolated from the thoughts she’d shared on her blog, and knew for sure that they were really ‘out there’- visible and defenseless.

And then one of those accidents happened in the creative process that some people call “just a coincidence.” But there are some coincidences that fit.

This particular revelation demanded little and gave instruction rather than information. A piece of paper accidentally stuck by Jess Chang’s eye. The piece of paper gave its 2 cents: “Look Up”, it said.

For more on the process behind making “The One I Keep”, read Merli’s blog. For past and future events, check out Luminarium Dance.

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