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INTERVIEW: The Arts Fuse

Fuse Dance Interview: Lumianrium Dance Company goes "Spektrel" for Halloween

Janine Parker

The Arts Fuse

October 19, 2015

Tricks and treats will abound next week when the five-year-old Luminarium Dance Company presents its new show Spektrel at the Multicultural Arts Center.

The “tricks” are those of perception, courtesy of co-directors Merli V. Guerra’s and Kimberleigh A. Holman’s fascination with how lighting can create not only ambiance in dance, but also visual effects whose shadows and shapes can alter the way a viewer sees and experiences what’s unfolding on the stage.

The “treats” being offered throughout Spektrel’s four dances are an eclectic variety of movement, music, and moods. The works of Guerra and Holman, who met while students at Mount Holyoke College, reflect the pair’s different dance backgrounds. Guerra’s choreography is infused with elements of ballet and classical Indian dance, Holman’s is informed by her jazz, modern, and musical theater training. Guerra, who also writes about dance for The Arts Fuse, is a visual artist who often uses video projection in her work, while Holman’s other talents include professional lighting design: she is thus responsible for all of the company’s lighting needs.

Holman will be running light and sound during Spektrel; Guerra, meanwhile, will perform in one of Holman’s dances. Both 28, the young co-directors rehearse their dancers at Green Street Studios in Central Square, but they strive to be involved with and contribute to the larger local dance scene; each year, in addition to other community-based projects, they host their ChoreoFest, in which several dance companies are invited to gather at the Dance Complex (also in Central Square) for a 24-hour period during which a brand new dance is created.

I spoke with Guerra by phone recently, while Holman and I corresponded via email; I’ve edited and condensed those conversations.

Arts Fuse: Did you work together while you were at Mount Holyoke?

Guerra: We did work together when we were in college. The two of us were very close in college and then kind of went our separate ways…after a year, I had come back to Boston and really wasn’t finding a group that really did what I was hoping to do and Kim was in a similar boat, and the two of us shared this love of light and I was doing a lot with video projection…she’s a professional theater lighter, so we decided to come together based on this mutual foundation in light. We literally had a plan of “ok here’s how much money we’re both comfortable with losing in order to do our first show, and if it’s a bust, we will walk away and never do it again.’” So we produced our first show…and we oversold both nights and it was jam-packed, and we decided “ok, I guess this is a company” and from there we’ve just been kind of non-stop [laughs].

AF: Kim, can you talk about your interest in light in regards to its use in your works for Luminarium, but also how you learned the technical aspects of designing/installing lighting?

Holman: I discovered lighting design in college while I was pursuing my degree in dance, and quickly realized the power that light has in the theatrical space. One of my quickest impulses early in my Luminarium career was to utilize light to create a sense of breath; there’s one piece that involves me sitting at the front of the audience with a light in my lap, just so I can improvise light breathing into the work in the moment. Light, when vital to a new piece of mine, is its own character in the work.

AF: The interest in light, is it both aesthetic, but also metaphoric for you?

Guerra: Yes! Completely! What we really loved about the name Luminarium is that it has two different definitions, to shed light on something physically, but it also means to enlighten mankind. It’s really wonderful that we’re able to encompass both of those things…we don’t ever want to be gimmicky, so if there isn’t a place for physical light, that’s when we have the meaning and the symbolism.

AF: Were you inspired by earlier dance/lighting pioneers such as Loie Fuller and Alwin Nikolais, and/or later ones such as Pilobolus?

Holman: While I’m familiar with the work of Fuller, Nikolais, Pilobolus, I don’t look for inspiration in their work. There are probably visual similarities, but my use of light comes from the same space as my choreography; the need to express a genuine thought, image, or story. When literal light doesn’t appear in my work, if there’s no place for outside-the-box lighting ideas, I tend to use the idea of light in terms of content.

When light is integral to something I set out to create, such as “rabbit hole cycles,” [one of Holman’s works in Spektrel] I develop the lighting ideas alongside the choreography. There is always a lot of experimentation and creative problem solving, as we don’t have the budget to buy whatever technology would make life easier, but that experimentation often enables me to discover things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

AF: Merli, I read that you appreciate artists who can talk about their work, so I’m going to put you both to it! Let’s talk about the four pieces on this program!

Guerra: A lot of my work deals with what I call “past-self…” that concept of being in a space but recognizing that a different piece of yourself was in that space before, in a very different part of your life. [In the] first piece of mine [as yet untitled]…the performer, Gabby Pacheco…feels very bogged down by all of the things in her life, and then she hears giggling, and that giggling turns into a video projection of a little version of herself at the age of four. [The child in the film, Raeden, is a friend’s daughter.] And so the two of them have this little duet where she’s kind of realizing that she’s so bogged down and so serious that she forgets to laugh, she loses her spirit and loses her focus at times.

Holman: My two new pieces that will debut during Spektrel are incredibly different from one another. In the first movement of my piece, “Getting There is Half the Battle,” the dancers are strapped together with an elastic band to demonstrate the idea that you can’t control how life gets in the way. In the second movement, they use the fugue structure [the dance is set to music by J.S. Bach] to play a sort of Baroque chutes-and-ladders with one another… The third movement focuses on distraction, especially that of contemporary culture. Let’s just say there may or may not be some selfies taken onstage when the performers should be dancing.

“rabbit hole cycles” was born from the idea of multiple worlds being present in one stage space, and quickly turned into a wacky exploration of real vs. unreal…The space(s)/worlds in the piece are far from real, and yet they are indicative of real life; a crowded street carnival or parade, the rehearsal space, faint murmurings from a nearby space. The performers’ actions and impulses on stage are far from how people act in real life, and yet they are representative of the human condition.

Guerra: The last piece is my “Phoenixial Cycle”…and it’s that concept of just going, going, going, and that burnout, and you push that point of burnout, and you collapse, and you wake up that next morning when you’ve pushed your way, whether it’s through a deadline, or a show…and you’re comforted by those sheets around you, and you can just breathe, for a minute… Our main character awakens amidst 40 yards of fabric, that whole opening section is her not wanting to start the cycle again, and being coaxed back onto her feet…I created the piece so that her costume changes; halfway through she explodes into color, so that her dress is suddenly not black any more…she’s really found her inner light and she’s excited by it, but…kind of like when a little kid at the end of the day goes from being really hyper and happy to suddenly [crashing], she has that same kind of adrenaline rush and then very quickly she crashes, and she’s forced to keep going and going and going. It’s hopefully going to be very dramatic…

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