Nicole Burgio triumphs in autobiographical xoxo moongirl

by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal

Nicole Burgio has a superpower. It’s her acrobatic prowess – and she draws upon it to climb high above the traumatic circumstances in which she was raised. In xoxo moongirl, an autobiographical multi-disciplinary work presented at Christ Church Neighborhood House in a 3-night stand beginning on Tuesday, Burgio shares her experience as a survivor of domestic abuse through storytelling, dance, and dazzling circus feats. It’s a story that she wants to make public rather than hiding away, and the piece speaks to the resiliency needed to achieve balance in our lives.

The set design is simple yet striking: a sturdy table sits center stage, a large paper disc is suspended overhead, and a red column of fabric hangs from the ceiling. The paper disc comes alive as the surface of the moon by means of a projection devised by Jeff Bethea. The costume design, by Evelyn Langley, features Burgio in simple white pants and shirt, with a dramatic emphasis of bright red socks.

Mel Hsu composed and performed the music for xoxo moongirl. She employs a variety of instruments plus vocals to underscore different moods in the piece. A vocal lament accompanies an anguished dance section, and then the soundscape grows percussive and supportive as Burgio summons the determination to perform an acrobatic dance atop the table. It’s a magical moment where the acrobatics seem to require strength and to build strength at the same time.

As a performer, Burgio is lively, animated and funny. She tells her story in bits and pieces – just enough information to understand the violence and fear present in her childhood household. She gives us a complex and loving portrait of her mother: an accomplished professional, a glamour queen, and a sleeping pill/vodka devotee. In the highlight of xoxo moongirl, Burgio takes on the character of her sleepy, drunken mom as she climbs up a column of red aerial silks, becoming tangled up, tumbling dangerously, seemingly out of control. We fear for her safety as she dangles upside down.

The production was co-created by Burgio and Ben Grinberg, and is presented by Almanac Dance Circus Theater, of which they are both members. Under Grinberg’s direction, xoxo moongirl pulls out all the stops in the visually stunning final sequence. As we wonder how Burgio is going to cope with the brutality she has witnessed, she shows us by donning a bright red gown and grabbing hold of a descending trapeze. She pulls herself higher and higher as confetti blows all around her spotlit body. In this moment of transcendence, she seemed amazed at what she could do – and sitting in the audience, we were in awe too.

Performances of xoxo moongirl continue on Wednesday and Thursday nights at Christ Church Neighborhood House:
Wednesday, June 27 at 7pm and 9pm
Thursday, June 28 at 8pm
Information: www.thealmanac.us

About Jane Fries

Originally from the west coast, Jane Fries pursued undergraduate studies in dance at San Diego State University, where she got her start writing about dance for the student newspaper. After an escapade as a correspondent for Dance Magazine in the south of France, she went on to earn her MA in dance from Mills College in Oakland, California. Jane's subsequent explorations in non-theatrical dance forms led her to take up the practice of yoga. She has lived in the Philadelphia area since 1996, and has had the great pleasure to study Iyengar yoga with Joan White. Jane's writing reflects her background in dance history and interest in documentation and preservation.

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