Tulugak: A flight towards unity
Canada-Greenland troupe prepares for Ottawa’s NAC in 2013
LAAKKULUK WILLIAMSON BATHORY
Everything is dark and in the eye-dilating mood of anticipation, the audience is quiet.
On stage, a qulliq slowly lights and everyone is drawn to its sweet calm. A man tends to the light. With no warning, a raven calls loudly from the back of the auditorium.
The audience, all of a sudden, is surrounded by the entire cast of Tulugak, cawing and cooing to each other as ravens do, picking up refuse and teasing the audience.
Slowly, the actors bring bits of garbage to pay homage to the man on stage, who as it turns out is a shape-shifting Raven Man.
So begins the show, and for the next hour and 15 minutes the audience swooshes above the power lines of town, swirls through the winds of stories, hops through the hilarity of human foible and ferocity, soars into the clouds of song and for every intent and purpose knows what it is to be a raven in the Arctic.
Tulugak played May 4 and 5 at the Katuaq, Greenland’s performance centre in Nuuk.
The show is about fascination, intrigue, laughter and love. It is about the culture that exists between birds and humans, birth and death, of small delights and of great mythology.
And, moreover, Tulugak is about the coming together of artists who are only superficially divided by borders and colonization. Tulugak is quintessentially a show about Inuit drawing great inspiration from one another.
The birth of Tulugak came quickly, in a flurry of activity in the gym of Nakasuk School in Iqaluit.
We were an excited, long-travelled and multilingual bunch from Nuuk, Ilulissat, Maniitsoq, Qaqortoq, Aasiaat, Igloolik, Qikiqtarjuaq, Iqaluit, Quaqtaq, Aupaluk and Kuujjuaq. At first, we were acquaintances. Almost immediately, however, we could communicate with the same lift of our eyebrows and glint in the eyes.
We all laughed at the same physical humour, we all fell into in a pattern of work that was at once exhilarating and comfortable. This was a scene of Inuit performance creation, as it has never happened before.
This was a group of artists drawing deeply from Inuit cultural practises and expressing it with eloquent idiosyncracy. After nearly three days of workshopping, Tulugak’s first performance took place at Iqaluit’s Alianait Festival in June 2011.
According to the account of Alianait’s director, Heather Daley, Tulugak was the highlight of the festival — a first effort that left audience and cast uplifted and stirred.
For last week’s performance at Katuaq, performers from Nunavik and Nunavut travelled to meet Greenlanders in their homeland. We he;d four 10-hour rehearsals at the Katuaq before two days of scheduled performances.
This time the core group of performers knew each other well, but were immensely enriched by Nuummiut newcomers to the cast.
Each show closed with audience members dancing on their feet and giving long ovations.
Ove Heilmann, Katuaq’s event manager, told the cast that as people poured out after each show, the most common remark they made was how proud they were to be Inuit.
Tulugak has many creators, as all the artists brought their own skills and experience needed to shape the characters and feeling of the show.
Sylvia Cloutier has been tireless in her efforts as director-producer. She collaborated with me, Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, to design the vision of the show.
Other major contributors to the show include Mike Philip Fencker Thomsen, Vivi Soerensen and Mathew Nuqingaq. Beatrice Deer was a singer-songwriter in the show and the costume designer.
Other collaborators in this latest effort include: Joey Ammaq, Chris Coleman, Titken Jakobsen. Saali Keelan, AneMarie Ottosen, Peter Lyberth, Angu Motzfeldt, Kimmernaq Kjeldsen, Hans-Joergen Zeeb, Tukummeq Egede, Martha Jensen, Nukánguak’ Berglund, Sofi Ek and the Qupannavaat Girls’ Choir. Cindy Rennie was our production manager.
Tulugak will next be performed in Nunavik in the fall of 2012. After, the Tulukkat — the Greenlandic plural for ravens and what we call the cast— will come together for 10 days of training and workshops in February 2013 at the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts.
Tulugak will then be presented at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on May 4, 2013.
Is there a bigger meaning to all this beyond the show itself? What is this surge of creativity, passion, self-esteem and solidarity that is integral to Tulugak?
The answer is that it is a movement: one that combines artistic intent with Inuit unity. In the 1960s and 1970s in Greenland, folk music walked hand-in-hand with the political impetus for self-determination.
Now, in the 2010s, there is a group of artists who are centred in their practice and intent on breaking down colonial, racial and class barriers for Inuit.
To reach across the Davis Strait and touch someone’s heart is at once artistic and political.