Art New England boasts a multitalented staff and many alumni who continue to make waves in the local arts scene and beyond. Former ANE art director Merli V. Guerra is an accomplished dancer and choreographer who co-founded Boston-based Luminarium Dance Company, which has received accolades for its inventive integrations of movement and light.
This fall, Luminarium debuts its evening-length performance, HIVELAND, at Cambridge, MA’s Multicultural Art Center (September 21–29). HIVELAND is the company’s elaboration upon a shorter work commissioned by TEDxCambridge in 2016. In the original performance, light silhouetted dancers’ forms before they burst into a three-dimensional, fantasy world, interacting with each other and a large red circle symbolizing a portal. As a colleague of Guerra’s and a fan of Luminarium, I witnessed an informal performance of new material extending from the TEDx dance at the Green Street Studios at the end of 2017. At the time, Guerra described the new work as an exploration of what might be encountered once one passes through the red circle. Now that the completed HIVELAND is about to debut, I reconnected with Guerra, co-founder Kimberleigh Holman, and other members of the Luminarium team to learn more about the evolution of this work.
First of all, what is meant by “hiveland?” In a surprisingly straightforward explanation, Holman said, “I got a beehive installed in the backyard, and the idea of a hive was mutually on our brains. As I spent some time observing the bees in action, the idea of playing off ‘hive’ was more and more the right choice—the buzz, the spirit of constant work, the community, and the ever-present drone… The piece for TEDx was also inspired by the idea of learning and working as a community…the fantastical hive motif was seamlessly integrated.”
“When titling the production, we were struck by the characters’ identities both as individuals and as a unified community,” Guerra elaborated. “We begin with everyone working fast-paced as a unified colony, yet as the work continues to unfold, we…zoom in on each individual within the group. It reminded us in many ways of bees entering and exiting a hive.”
Katie McGrail, a dancer with Luminarium since 2012, described HIVELAND’s choreography as “a series of multifaceted pushes and pulls. There is an intensity to it that appears in different ways at different points, sometimes showing up as intense physicality, other times as subtle manipulation…I would describe HIVELAND as an exploration of a very particular world in which universal dualities, such as individuality and belonging, present themselves and must be grappled with.” Fellow dancer Jennifer Roberts likened it to “the personal buzzing of a shifting brain.”
Adding to this double sensation of flux and intensity is composer Christos Zevos’ score, which builds an “uncanny mood” from playing stringed instruments, dropping stones in a filled bathtub, the sound of a leaf blower, and other moments that veer from bizarre to prosaic. “What I like the most about what I’ve produced for HIVELAND is the mix of [digital and analog] elements. I spent a great deal of time recording acoustic instruments, Foley sound effects and digital audio to create a sound which is both organic and electric. Many of these real-world sounds have effects and processing added to them to create something that is otherworldly, while also containing elements which sound natural.”
While it may not be discernable to the audience, one of HIVELAND’s most unusual elements is its slow, two-year-long evolution. “Taking this kind of extended time to create work is not something we often get to do in the dance world,” McGrail explained. “This process has been somewhat luxurious in that way.”
Guerra expressed similar emotions, noting that the production’s “longer work period has allowed me the time to ruminate inside each segment’s reasons for being, and for that I am grateful.” Yet she acknowledges the particular challenges of creativity sustained through major life changes. “Due to straddling two cities now (Boston, MA and Princeton, NJ), my physical interaction with the dancers has been considerably limited for this production. So while the brain-related aspects of my work have flourished, it is the body that has felt rushed in creating HIVELAND. Still, I find myself mesmerized by the final results, and look forward to seeing the work in its fullest—feeding off the energy of the audience on opening night!”
Luminarium Dance Company’s feature production HIVELAND runs September 21, 22, 28, 29 at 8pm at the Multicultural Arts Center in East Cambridge, MA, with a special post-performance Meet & Greet with the cast and directors on opening night. To learn more about the production and buy tickets, visit luminarium.ticketleap.com/hiveland.