From the pre-show announcement, we know we won’t catch all that is said onstage during Unikkaaqtuat; in being honest, we won’t have to. In freeing ourselves from the tethers of language-anchored “theatre,” we give ourselves over to a looser, more vibrant performance – one not without flaws, but one with absolute power to inspire and captivate its all-ages audience.
Unikkaaqtuat’s storytelling is a blend all its own of dance, circus, music, and pure athleticism, accompanied by untranslated Inuit language. This joint collaboration between NAC Indigenous Theatre, The 7 Fingers/Les 7 doigts de la main, Artcirq, and Taqqut Productions offers to us an impressive collective of artists capable of astonishing physical feats; what lingers beyond the piece’s final (melancholy, beautiful) chord, though, is not these artists’ physical capabilities, but indeed, what seems to be their ability to transcend the laws of gravity, recovering even from evident missteps or mistakes. Performers navigate complicated choreography through masks and stilts – they are evident masters of humour and grace, surprise and fluidity. They become rabbits, polar bears, glaciers, hunters, the unborn – vibrant symbols of Inuit culture, often accompanied by throat singing and guitar.
Unikkaaqtuat finds its point of entry through a contemporary young Inuit man, one hospitalized by an undetermined ailment. It is through the discovery of tapes of Inuit storytelling from his grandparents that he is able to dive into his culture and recover his weary spirit. This narrative is about all we are given as an audience in terms of English-language story; it’s enough to string together the more physical vignettes, but is perhaps unnecessary, not adding much to what already stands as a strong mosaic of Inuit culture. Unikkaaqtuat shines the moment it breaks away from these hospital scenes; we the audience, prepared to be mystified by the show’s premise and promotional materials, don’t seem to need this bridge between spectatorship and legend.
It must be said that Unikkaaqtuat feels unfinished (making all the more remarkable its affective power in its more powerful moments). Opening night saw several malfunctioning props and set pieces, and suffered clear sound malfunctions; as well, some transitions between vignettes felt a tad under-considered, leaving unfounded awkward pauses. That being said, Unikkaaqtuat has true potential in its mediation of gorgeous illustration and physical theatre. Judging by audience reaction, this piece serves its community and makes clear a societal lapse in Indigenous education; it certainly prompted me to further research dramaturg/illustrator Germaine Arnaktauyok’s work, and I hope it inspired others to look deeper into a culture not often highlighted in Southern Ontario. Unikkaaqtuat is truly an all-ages event, one capable of resonating across generations; its future iterations will be all the more incredible for further development, play, and refinement of technical elements.
Unikkaaqtuat runs at the NAC until 12 January 2020. Tickets are available at nac-can.ca.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.