Disaster—or the possibility if it. A glass of milk precariously close to the edge of a table. This is how XOXO Moongirl begins, by setting us on edge– at least the nervous among us. But the artist soon explains how there are two kinds of people, those who are distressed by the milk risk, and those who…well, push the limits. Guess which one she was? As the story evolves, we discover that her being that sort of person evolved in direct opposition to her control freak, abusive father, and suddenly her wish to go to the edge, to test the seams, to escape—even all the way to the moon, makes sense.
Normally, when an artist or show pulls out the old trope that they want to fly to outerspace to escape life here on earth, David Bowie comes to mind and I think, ‘Yeah no one can beat Starman, sorry.’ But Almanac Dance Circus Theater’s XOXO Moongirl by Nicole Burgio made me stop mid-shrug and savor the very human urge to rise above.
In Burgio’s case, rising above means learning to cope with a traumatic history of abuse, navigating relationships, understanding herself and in a happy twist, doing it all with a wicked sense of humor and lots of physical expression, including circus. Perhaps it is the very visceral, autobiographical approach that gives XOXO Moongirl its authenticity. Burgio’s blend of intimate clowning, chatting with the audience (even pulling bit players up on stage to assist), moments of confession, and impersonation of family members combine effortlessly with her impressive acting skills and her prowess in circus.
Speaking of circus, Burgio uses it equally to express her history and her feelings (acrobatically and abstractly recreating a scene of abuse towards her mother, expressing her feelings of isolation with handbalancing, or while on silks, showing her mom’s frequent Ambien/alcohol induced escapes). What is so admirable about the show is just how real Burgio gets, tenderly revealing her unconditional admiration and love towards her mother, and exposing her own flaws and fears of being like her father. Magically, Burgio uses the abstract expression of movement along with the folksier methods of storytelling and clowning, which are notoriously difficult to mix, to create a show that is as riveting as it is human.
With bold, visual stunning directing by Ben Grinberg, powerful music composed and played by Mel Hsu, and a clever but streamlined set design, XOXO Moongirl strikes just the right chord with audiences hungry for vulnerable storytelling and unblinking action.
The final flourish is the moment on trapeze when her dream world is powerfully confronted with an aerial routine that is both as graceful and powerful, and as frenzied and determined as she is. For this promising US based company Almanac Dance Circus Theater to be at the Edinburgh Fringe is triumph enough, but up against much larger circus shows at bigger venues, XOXO Moongirl is a surprise, and a refreshing and intimate hidden spring.
XOXO Moongirl plays at Assembly Checkpoint until August 25th at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Feature photo courtesy of Johanna Austin