by Emma Elsmo for The Dance Journal
On Sunday evening, Almanac Dance Circus Theater presented Nicole Burgio’s xoxo moongirl for the last time in Philadelphia. The work weaves a complicated web as Burgio so innovatively tells the story of her tumultuous family dynamics, both as an all-seeing child and as an all-knowing adult. With an extensive focus on carefully crafted props and a beautiful highlighting of the power of live accompaniment, xoxo moongirl explores the concept of dissociation and escape through breathtaking imagery. After a week and a half long run, paired with the exceedingly positive feedback from the arts community in Philly, the solo act finished with a practically sold out and decidedly anticipatory audience.
The stage was set meagerly with a table in the center and musician decorating the corner. The hour and five-minute-long work opened with Nicole Burgio placing a glass of milk frighteningly close to the corner of the table and paced backward along the tabletop at a steep diagonal with excruciating trepidation. Her coy nature entranced the viewers as she addressed us with a childlike wonder. She explained in great detail the outline of her childhood home within the space and helped us visualize family dinners through active visualization and imaginative descriptions. Within the first ten minutes of the piece, we had a more than intimate familiarity with the rather unfortunate reality of abuse and manipulation that shaped Burgio’s youth.
The clever usage of audience participation made for both humorous and emotional moments, but the haunting addition of Mel Hsu performing live added dimension and depth through hollow vocals and lingering acoustics. Fights ensued as the evocative stories unfolded, and as we went further down the rabbit hole of Burgio’s life, we witnessed more vulnerability through her desire to travel to the moon. With a round sign hanging from the rafters making the moon appear as though it were far in the distance, the more life circumstance changed for our protagonist, the more she seemed to dissociate from real life.
After attempting to evacuate her mother and sister from her abusive father’s home, after arguments with audience-participant “lovers”, and after handling her pill-popping mom, it seemed as though there wasn’t much else, she alone could handle. And in theory, there wasn’t. Burgio’s need to escape from reality figuratively took her to the moon— a place where she was alone and needn’t worry about taking care of anyone but herself— with a simple flip of the moon sign. The indication that Earth was now far away allowed her utter and complete freedom to explore and be who Burgio needed to be, but unfortunately, interactions with metaphoric alien lifeforms and theoretical telephone calls with her heavily intoxicated mother interfered with her escape. However, it was a request to call her father that ultimately brought her to the crossroads of reality vs. fantasy.
The visualization used at the end of xoxo moongirl was gasp-inducingly stunning, as the table-turned-fan blew snow-like bits of paper throughout the space. Her transition from a stark white costume and vibrant red socks to a shockingly red, Marilyn Monroe type dress seemingly actualized her growing up. The allure of the end exemplified the idiom of going back down to earth and accepting life as it is. From top to bottom the work tackled everything from psychology to anecdotes and was immensely successful in doing so. I look forward to hearing about the work’s appearance at Edenborough’s Fringe Festival, as well as future pieces from the creative geniuses behind xoxo moongirl.