By Joe Szek
‘Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic’ is a creative-collection performance of drumming, song, story-telling and movement based on the legends of the Inuit hero Kiviuq, as remembered by Inuit elders: Miriam Aglukkaq (from Kugaarjuk), Susan Avingaq (from Igloolik), Madeleine Ivalu (from Igloolik), and Qaunaq Mikigak (from Kinngait). There is an English language descriptive guide in the program and online that I would recommend future audiences to read in order to develop further insight of the play.
At this opening night sold out performance, I will be honest and say I had no idea what I would be seeing. The entire production is told in the Inuktitut language. There was a brief opening night introductory remark with director Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory before the performance began that had a slight political edge to it regarding Canada’s initial irresponsibility in half hearted assurances and broken promises made to the Indigenous people. As Canada continues to acknowledge the atrocities committed against the Indigenous people, I believe it was necessary to hear these opening remarks as a continued reminder of what happened historically.
I thought it was a nicely orchestrated touch in watching Ms. Williamson Bathory carry a young baby in her arms while she spoke to the audience. Her Director’s Note in the program states: “Our repeated actions on stage [each performance] are healing. Our connection between our elders and young people is deepened.” For me, I felt there is an inherent responsibility that the elders must ensure the young people continue to speak the language and encourage the language to be spoken. Carrying the baby out to the audience was a gentle reminder this tradition will carry on.
I recognize that this ensemble based theatrical presentation may not appeal to all interests and tastes of discerning audience members, but I believe it’s important for each of us to move out of our comfort zones and try something unique and different. ‘Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic’ certainly made me leave my comfort zone.
Did I understand everything? Absolutely not, but the program guide and lights coming up periodically allowed me to review quickly what I was about to see before the next story began.
It’s a bare stage with minimal set dressings that are easily manoeuvred on and off. From my seat in the house, Looee Arreak’s costume designs were gorgeously colourful to see. Jamie Griffiths’ projection designs transported me to many northern Canadian locales that made me want to see this part of my country sometime very soon. The drumming and chant at the top of the performance were effective reminders to me of the continued presence of the Indigenous culture here in urban Toronto.
What struck me the most about this opening night performance and made me appreciate this evening spent at Tarragon? Again, from my seat in the house, I saw and watched the joy on the faces of this intensely focused six-member ensemble cast who found humour, pathos, sadness, regret and hope for their future. I hesitate to single out any of the performers or spoil any plot moments as the cast gelled nicely in their quest to share the story of Kiviuq.
I loved the vocal intonations of the Inuktitut language. Periodically, I closed my eyes during the performance just so I could concentrate on hearing the rhythms and sounds of the voices of the performers speaking. I was fortunate to have had wonderful second language teachers in high school and during my undergraduate years who instilled in me a love of appreciating and experiencing second language culture. This cast continued that same love affair I have with second language learning.
I don’t want to spoil any moments for future audiences, but the conclusion of the production beautifully connects audience and cast as one. The appreciation on the faces of the cast and crew at the curtain call spoke volumes to me.
Performances of ‘Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic’ continue to January 27, 2019 at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue. For further information and/or to purchase tickets, visit the website or call 1-416-531-1827.