FRINGE SHORTS: Malia Burkhart’s “Survival Pages”

Lightsey Darst is reporting back on a sampling of dance-y productions which are on stage as part of this year's Fringe Festival. First in line: Malia Burkhart's eco-minded multimedia performance, "The Survival Pages."


Malia Burkhart’s The Survival Pages is essentially a public service announcement —rethink your relationship to the environment, etc —but that doesn’t prevent it from being a good Fringe show any more than the social purpose of a mural blunts its graphic impact. When she was a kid, Burkhart wanted to be a nature host (a la Marty Stouffer of Wild America), and in The Survival Pages, she succeeds in hosting a new kind of nature program. Burkhart’s version doesn’t feature glossy, gorgeous footage of the strange habits of weird animals in exotic places, explained in disembodied voiceover. Instead, she sets up resonances between film and live action, between human and animal, between one place and another, that carry her message of interconnectedness.

This yields lots of strong and sometimes lovely moments. On film, Burkhart tramps around on the North Shore, showing us snakes and broken ferns, but she also shows us the welter of bug bites her nature trip earns her. Later, her dancing body fades in and out as the rocky scene behind her stays the same. The smooth site-specific movement improvisations she’s doing on the film echo earlier live-action slitherings across a black leather lazy-boy, and are, themselves, echoed by the live Burkhart on the barren stage. During a voiceover of the “Top 100 Things to Do to Prepare for Peak Oil”—alternately depressing (“buy several pairs of good work-boots”) and uplifting (advice on doing what you want for a living)—Burkhart tapes together a newsprint sail, an object with a utilitarian look but no clear purpose. She slides through a bucket of dirt, making patterns reminiscent of a sand painting, while her recorded voice chants definitions of dirt and soil that reveal our general distaste for the substance from which we come and into which we must go. In front of a film of a caterpillar converting to a chrysalis, and then of a chrysalis opening to a butterfly, Burkhart does the same side-to-side flexion as the metamorphosing animal uses to accomplish its ragged miracle. She calls so much attention to the animal’s dance-like movement, in fact, that I became fixated on her chrysalis co-star, not even noticing when Burkhart changed shirts. For a show that aims to refocus our eyes on the natural world, this is a mark of success.

In general, I’m not receptive to public service announcements. Also, I ordinarily feel pretty good about my co-op-shopping, non-SUV lifestyle, and I’m not given to panic about the future. But Burkhart’s likable presence and savvy presentation did work on me. What if steady but slow action isn’t enough? What will “enough” look like? What future is rapidly approaching us?

About the writer: Lightsey Darst writes on dance for Mpls/St Paul magazine and is also a poet and editor of’s What Light: This Week’s Poem publication project.

What: The Survival Pages by Malia Burkhart
Where: Intermedia Arts, Minneapolis, MN
When: July 31, August 2, 3, 5 & 8 (click here for specific performance times)
Admission: $12 (plus a $3 Fringe button)

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Lightsey  Darst

Lightsey Darst is a writer and critic based in Durham. She has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for both literature and dance criticism, as well as a Minnesota Book Award. Her books of poetry are Find the Girl and DANCE (2010 and 2013, both from Coffee House Press). Her criticism is online at,, The Huffington Post, and Bookslut. …   read more