Sometimes, when you’re on the moon, you get a different perspective on things. Distance is an often-denied necessity. In the midst of pain, trauma, and everything woven between, we carry an instinct to stay in the moment. Analyze it now. Be with the people who are there in it. Be with yourself. Be there. But in Nicole Burgio’s xoxo moongirl, sometimes you have to go to the moon to learn how to heal.
You can’t heal what you don’t reveal
This is the second time I’ve seen Burgio’s performance of xoxo moongirl. Last year, the show stunned me with its nuanced magic: the fierce grace of her movements; the defying, perplexing ways she tossed herself within the silks; the way she helixes her performance of herself as Cole and then as her mother. (Here’s Cara Blouin’s 2018 review of the show’s premiere.)
The movements are part of the narrative, and to the naked, awestruck eye, the colloquy isn’t immediately clear. She’s not moving around simply because it’s impressive by way of contortion. The dances aren’t flailing. They are purposeful, intense, and gripping once it dawns on you why she’s chosen these movements. These frenetic jumps, twists, bends, and grunts reveal how stress and pain hide within the fibers of our bodies when we don’t even know it.
If the worst thing you ever endured was to put on a solo performance, what would it look like? How would you calibrate and direct its kinesis? Moreover, how would it move you? xoxo moongirl answers that in just over an hour.
“I had written a show in my head when I was working and performing in Mexico,” Burgio tells BSR. “I was thinking in my head I wanted eggshells in the ceiling and I wanted to break them.” That, along with other blooming images, was her imagining what it meant to be a bad person. Burgio is candid about her relationship with her father and how it splintered into abuse whenever the sun went down. “It crept into my work,” she adds. “I knew in high school that it was bad… I needed to get away and then I never thought of it again.”
The performance opens with her walking backward atop a table, inching toward a glass of milk she can’t see, asking the audience, “Am I close?” The initial silence is cut with nervous laughter and bated breaths over her dangerous playfulness. Spilling milk suddenly feels like it’s the worst thing—something many of us might remember from childhood. Spill anything and be reprimanded. Unfortunate given the grace we lacked as human youngsters, uncertain of the capacity of our bodies.
It was disorienting when the adults who reprimanded us knew their own capacity and still inflicted harm.
“Sometimes, my dad is on good behavior,” Burgio says.
The third person on the moon
Burgio notes that neither of her parents have seen the show. Her father doesn’t understand what it’s about. And she’s giving her mother room, seeming hopeful for a change.
“It’s not like my mom left him or my dad has apologized. They are trying to form a relationship. I don’t want to throw something in there that would mess up that process. I put my family’s life on blast without permission. I try to be sensitive and somewhat apologetic.”
Caught in the middle, Burgio works magic from the stage—the moon. This is the space she’s composed. And when she gets to the moon in the performance, the distance between her and her mother is tremendous but imperative, and you can see it.
Practice coming home
The response to performances of xoxo moongirl in Mexico was not the same. When she performed it all in Spanish, some of the nuance got lost in the translation. “I felt that as a barrier,” Burgio admits. “When I came back, saying it in English again, the rhythm was off and the scenes were dead… We rewrote some sections that we thought were saying something, but it was a whole lot of nothing.”
“What’s the point of coming back if you’re not brave enough?” Cole asks in the show.
The distance from home brought evolution to what was already a critically acclaimed performance. Burgio wants to amplify voices of other people, particularly women, who’ve dealt with domestic violence. “There’s embarrassment that people feel with those situations, and I want to put a voice to that,” she says. “I wish my mom understood that there are other people who have experienced that and that she’s not alone.”
Sometimes, distance teaches that.
“I want people to seek adventure,” Burgio concludes, “to look for the moon.”
What, When, Where
xoxo moongirl. By Nicole Burgio, directed by Ben Grinberg. Presented by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre through June 23, 2019, at the Funicular Station, 416 West Coulter Street, Philadelphia. thealmanac.us/xoxomoongirl.
The Funicular Station is a wheelchair-accessible venue.