This post is written by Meryl Merman, a Lebanese-American interdisciplinary artist. Her newest work is a choreographic residency called The Lipstick. You can learn more about Meryl and her work here.
When asked where my work stems from, I often reply that I am addicted to questions without answers. I tend to use the creative
process as a way to peel away the layers of a sticky question, though not with the purpose of drawing a conclusion, but rather as a way to further interrogate and explore complex ideas from a multitude of perspectives. Plurality feels like an appropriate reaction to the world I grew up in. Multi-perspectivism, current to the world of shifting identities I inhabit, and the multi-cultural landscape of those whom I call my friends and family. My work is very conscious of the melting pot of cultures, values and ideas that create the cultural tapestry of contemporary society. I believe in many ways this is a reaction to my upbringing, and the cultural awareness, stories, history and heritage my Lebanese grandmother imparted on me.
Currently I am in the midst of a year-long choreographic residency in New Orleans, where I will be presenting a new piece of choreography, The Lipstick, Feb 27-Mar 1. I will also be presenting the piece at the largest conference in North America for French scholars, the 20th / 21st Century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium, in Baton Rouge in late February as part of a panel on Dance and Phenomenology.
The Lipstick is a contemporary performance ritual exploring acts of transgression and the passage to transcendence. Performed by four male dancers and a violinist, and loosely inspired by the Lebanese short story, Red Lips, by Mai Ghoussoub, it attempts to redefine ritual amidst shifting and evolving identities.
I am Lebanese-American, and while the immigration status of elders in my family, and current affairs in the Middle East, seem moderately removed from my immediate life experiences, I have grown up in their cultural residue. My heritage has shaped my identity, and subliminally haunts my work. When I first read, Red Lips, the story danced off the page, and felt like a kinesthetic biography of my life. I was hardly reading the words, I was instead feeling the movement. I could relate to the protagonist’s discipline to her studies, her complex relationship to Catholicism and the convent that most of the story takes place in. The right of passage that red lipstick signified. My own memories of wearing red lipstick as an act of defiance, an act of performativity, of identity, the ritual of putting it on. The many perspectives with which she looked at the color red against a background of shadows and low light felt poignant to my own experiences coming of age. Themes of refugees and the civil war in Beirut haunt the story, but in the background, and even that felt similar to my life, growing up hearing about Beirut as either ‘the most beautiful place in the world,’ or a place of war and destruction. The mythos of it as the promised land or a bombed out relic being almost greater than anything any place could live up to in reality.
While I would not call my piece by any means a literal re-interpretation of the story, I was inspired by it, and it provoked me to look deeper into personal/familial questions surrounding immigration, refugee status, ritual, heritage, and identity. I work collaboratively with my dancers, and so our process and the final product will extend beyond my own personal relationship to these questions. One of the opening questions Mai Ghoussoub presents in her story is for an installation she is making on refugees, where she asks people to send in objects they could carry with them if they were forced to suddenly leave home and venture into an unknown future. The question feels pertinent to people living in post-Katrina New Orleans, where the experience of having to leave suddenly, or not knowing when or if one will be able to return home is very real. One quote echoed almost verbatim from different people whom I love who lived through wars in Beirut and floods in New Orleans is, “I do not expect anything to last. I have learned that everything can be lost in a moment.” The first staging of The Lipstick at the end of February will come after 6 weeks of rehearsals with the dancers and musician.
Meryl Murman makes magic, movement and moving pictures. She is a New Orleans based interdisciplinary artist creating dance, film and performance since 2004. Her work has been seen in NYC, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Cleveland, Bangor, and Austin. Most recently her choreography Rouge was presented at REDCAT in May 2014, Los Angeles. Internationally she has been blessed with the opportunity to create and collaborate with artists in Johannesburg South Africa. In New Orleans she co-founded Broken Wings Productions, a production company dedicated since 2010 to experimenting with the intersection of dance and film. Their largest and most recent project to date, the forty-minute dance film, Le Pain, shot in New Orleans, LA can be seen nationally and internationally at film festivals this year.
Murman received her BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and her MFA in Choreography and Integrated Media at California Institute for the Arts.