by Teevi Mackay
Northern scene made quite the impression in Ottawa. A good impression. The National Arts Centre coordinated the weeklong event in late April and early May. Northern artists displayed their talent for everyone to see and without disappointment.
I was in awe of one performance in particular. It left me speechless. All I could do after this show was shake the hands of those involved in the production while congratulating them. This show was Sylvia Cloutier’s Tulugak: Inuit Raven Stories. Tulugak is a spectacular play that showcases drum dancing, singing, throat singing, acting, story-telling, musical ingenuity, humour, Greenland masks and even Greenlandic rapping. The talent comes from about 20 Northerners, mostly Inuit from Nunavut, Nunavik and Greenland, including artists from the National Theatre of Greenland. Cloutier directed Tulugak and she also sings, drum dances and throat sings in the play. Cloutier has mastered the marrying of both Inuit of Canada and Greenland, a mix that gives life to what Inuit have: raw talent. This production deserves international attention. The 70-minute jaw-dropping and entertaining show sold out and left many who vied for a ticket disappointed.
Through stories, Tulugak puts the limelight on the raven. The costumes are impeccable, including large raven costumes and Inuit garments. Tulugak audiences are enveloped into a trance by unique Inuit artistry. Greenland’s Angu Motzfeldt entices the audience with his soft and graceful voice during his solo performance. Titken Jakobsen, a music teacher in Nuuk, Greenland, shares his musical talent through playing the cello, piano and bass — just a few of the many instruments he plays. Beatrice Deer, Nunavik’s own, shares her oratory range and acting for the show. Charlie Keelan also sings and plays the piano and guitar. He wrote a song specifically for Tulugak.
Laakuluk Williamson Bathory, a well-known storyteller, plays an integral role in Tulugak. She weaves the play through her unmatched ability to voice stories through her beautiful projection filled with heart and intellect. This year she is Iqaluit’s Honorary Toonik, a recognition given to one person annually in Iqaluit for outstanding volunteerism, during Iqaluit’s annual Toonik Tyme festival. She’s originally from Greenland but today Iqaluit is home to her and her family.
Northern Scene also showcased The Jerry Cans, an Iqaluit band that has already toured Canadian cities. The lead singer and guitarist, Andrew Morrison, sings songs in Inuktitut. He is not Inuk by blood but his
Inuktitut is perfect. Morrison’s aipaq (partner), Nancy Mike, gave birth to their daughter, Viivi, during the Northern Scene festival. Mike plays the accordion in the Jerry Cans and throat sings. Just a day after the arrival of Viivi, the Jerry Cans wowed the crowds with their folk-rock performance at the Library and Archives Canada. Mike’s throat singing partner (together as professional throat singers they are called Kulavak), Kathleen Merritt of Rankin Inlet, took Mike’s spot as a throat singer. This show had the audience circling their seats dancing! The audience loved it so much they convinced the Jerry Cans into two encores.
For me it was incredible to see the Jerry Cans doing so well because I went to school with all of them. I was in the same music class as Steve Rigby in high school where he played the drums and now he’s a professional drummer! I also went to school with Brendan Doherty and Andrew Morrison in Iqaluit — their siblings were my classmates — and Nancy Mike and Kathleen Merritt were my classmates in Nunavut Sivuniksavut. Such a talented group! I’m very happy for them.
Elisapie Isaac of Nunavik (now living in Montreal) sold out her show at the National Arts Centre. It was one of the first shows to be sold out. Her magnetic personality and charismatic air translates well on stage. Some audience members said that they were in a complete trance while she performed. She has a new CD out called Travelling Love. It mainly voices the many trials and triumphs that love offers in relationships. She has definitely grown in her music and her beauty both intrinsically and extrinsically and this really shines through in her music. Two years ago she was the main performance at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s A Taste of the Arctic gala event.
This year, A Taste of the Arctic’s (ATOTA) main performance was Beatrice Deer. ATOTA is ITK’s annual gala event that showcases Inuit talent from across the North and also serves exquisite, chef-made Arctic country food. Incredible Inuvialuit drummers and dancers, dressed in Inuvialuit regalia, shook the venue with their powerful display of unmatched Inuvialuit performing arts. Their performance tells stories through the beat of their drums, their singing, and the dancer’s movement, which is all done with every ounce of their Inuvialuit hearts. It’s a performing art that always shakes the ground and hearts of those who have the privilege of seeing it.
Rannva Simonsen’s seal skin garments created ATOTA’s seal skin garment fashion show — beautiful outerwear and even seal skin shorts that I modelled. I modelled Rannva’s work in 2000 at the North American Fur and Fashion Expedition Montreal when she just started out as a fashion designer. It was a pleasure to model for her again 13 years later. Her work has developed so much into beautiful works of art. After the show, Laureen Harper, the Prime Minister’s wife, happily tried on at least three of Rannva’s coats. It’s amazing how seal skin coats really change the way you feel — seal skin wear I would say is actually holistic fashion because Inuit harvest seals sustainably, eat the meat and fat (rich with omegas), and create beautiful works of art with the seal’s skin, not to mention hunting seal and being out on the land is healthy living.
Performances at ATOTA included Baker Lake’s Nelson Tagoona. The youthful Tagoona mixes throat singing and beat boxing (otherwise known as throat boxing) into his extraordinary performance. Tagoona is known for reaching out to Inuit youth in an effort to encourage and inspire them to live a better life. He openly talks to young Inuit about the very prevalent issue of suicide and aims to show them that there are other options, and does so by being a role model to them. He is a role model through the performing work that he does and through the message he sends through his inspirational talks at schools.
Tanya Tagak also sold out her show at the Mayfair Theater. Her unique throat singing art form was displayed throughout the whole 1922 Nanook of the North film. People were lining up outside of the theatre to get a ticket. I really do not know how Tagak can throat sing for over an hour as it is really harsh on the throat. She said that she had to tone her performance a little to suit the film. Tagak has the ability to step outside of her inhibitions and show raw intense emotions through her performance. I can say that I was very proud to be Inuk during Northern Scene.
Inuit are so unique in their talent and unique in the fact that we come from the Arctic — a harsh, cold land that really is a beautiful place, if embraced. Ottawa, I believe, embraced the talent of the many Northerners. This showcase of Northern talent I believe should be capitalized on more in the South. It really is a way to bridge the gap of North and South as our geographical distance is vast. The National Arts Centre really should be credited for the work they did — a job well done in terms of harnessing and highlighting Northern talent at its best.