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REVIEW: Jessica Ellen Monk

I'll Be in the Luminarium:

A Dance Company Burns the Midnight Oil

By Jessica Ellen Monk

Arlington Advocate

December 9, 2014

Another year, another opening night for Luminarium Dance, this time with The Sleeprunner. And as I love to point out, the dance/lighting design company have had quite a run of coincidences involving light. This time it was a full moon, and an earlier show happened during a power-out that left the area in darkness except for the lights at their performance.

But it’s still an ordinary miracle to live on a planet hanging on the arm of a young sun, and this is why Luminarium’s synchronicity-stalked project stays fresh and profound for me. At The Sleeprunner, I found myself surprised and delighted again by the simplicity of the idea itself — the way it peels from the ordinary its ex-tempore guise and reveals light for what it is — solitary miracle, flickering away in space.

If you have trouble sleeping, like co-director Merli Guerra, it’s the daylight world that really does the haunting. The ordinary that poses as the innocent background of life: marching commuters, drained coffee mugs, to-do lists and cell-phone bleeps, is what interrupts the original darkness into which the mind wants to melt itself down. Call that whatever you want, maybe the subconscious: it’s out of this darkness that Luminarium’s bright ideas come. Their last show, Secrets and Motion, was a raft of spirited performances that floated on a deep sea of secrets and untold sadness.

The competing personalities and unspoken dialogue of Luminarium’s dancers so naturally indicates their fragile defiance in that big-sky darkness, that you almost forget how well coordinated all of this has to be. This is especially important given Luminarium’s preference for using music with more obvious pop-structures, where all the drama has to turn on the beat. In one amazing segment, Merli had to trudge through a thick forest of her dancers’ hands six feet off the ground towards a dangling light bulb. The song was going to end, and you wondered if she’d make it. Up in the gallery of Cambridge’s Multicultural Arts Center — a gorgeous space Merli described as somewhere you could charge people to lie down in and look up at the stuccoed ceiling — she was spotlighted pulling the invisible strings of her marionette-like dancers (Kimberleigh Holman, her co-director, designed all the lighting, and was watching over the performance they both choreographed). It was only then that I noticed the connection between The Sleeprunner’s deliberate hand movements (Merli brings her knowledge of classical Indian Odisi hand technique to the choreography), and the invisible threads pulled taut throughout the dances. I learned afterwards that the dancers right and left hands were used to rouse and wake up other dancers — a left and right-brain dialogue.

When the intensity of the dance’s crescendos dies away, it’s still clear that Luminarium are a young, fun company, putting all they have into a brew that fascinates them as well as their audiences. It’s the sense that everyone’s laundry is thrown into the mix that gives a vibe of playful evolution to everything they do. There is something familiar about the democratic crew of squabbling/reflective dancers they introduce to the stage. No matter whose biographical struggles these originally were, they are presented as our own thoughts and schemes come to life, sometimes silly, sometimes celebrated, often just confused. The only drawback of the low-to-the-ground, creaturely choreography they favor is that the flat spaces they’ve danced in can’t accommodate everyone’s view.

At The Sleeprunner, the dancers were rigged to the directive of those lights in the sky that regulate our being. Strained, and looking for a way to switch off these unblinking deities, they demonstrated that light is what gives darkness its human meaning of rest and silence. The Sleeprunner was a conversation between night and day, where rest became everything that light wasn’t. But if someone were to yell “who started it?!” — it was definitely light. And that’s where Luminarium came in, to adjudicate—and maybe just to pull the strings and see what would happen.

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