Igloolik's home-grown clowns charm Alianait audiences

Artcirq brings new life to old Inuit diversions


Artcirq, Igloolik's circus troupe, have put on shows as far away as the deserts of Timbuktu, but there was something special about their performing for a home crowd inside a real, big-top tent during the Alianait Arts Festival in Iqaluit recently.

On Tuesday, June 25, they unveiled their new show, Oatiario. Like so much else in Nunavut, it's a mixture of old and new.

Traditional Inuit games, juggling and throat singing shared the stage with acrobats who teetered atop one another's shoulders, performed back-flips and twirled high in the air, suspended by long pieces of cloth.

The troupe is decked out in traditional amautiit and silapaat, but they also incorporate props like laptop computers, pop cans and other modern conveniences.

The show's name, which means, roughly, "in a minute," gives a nod to how time flows slowly in the North. Plan if you like, but odds are you will wait longer than expected.

Announcements are largely made in Inuktitut. And where else but in Nunavut would you find pregnant women, babies and small children included in a circus show?

The end result was a show that charmed the crowd with a mixture of touching moments – such as a man rubbing the tummy of his pregnant partner – and impressive acrobatics.

Old tricks familiar to those who saw Artcirq perform last year have been refined, such as a bit involving a clown standing motionless on a big, plastic ball – the clown now appears to be on the verge of teetering over the whole time, while remaining expertly in control.

Small children in the audience shrieked and scurried to their parents upon the appearance of Terry Uyarak, who lumbered on stage dressed in the skin of a polar bear.

The bear is eventually driven off by a woman cracking a whip, while the men on stage cower in a corner. Women in the audience, naturally, applauded loudly.

One promising young performer, Jimmy Ava-Qamukaq, 19, earned lots of laughs with exaggerated physical comedy he says is inspired by all the Jim Carrey movies he watched while growing up.

While drum dancing, he would obnoxiously wiggle his bottom in the face of fellow performers. And, balanced precariously atop someone's single, outstretched hand, he would grimace and stick out his tongue.

Artcirq started 10 years ago as a suicide-prevention project organized by Guillaume Saladin, who, as the son of a famous anthropologist, frequently visited Igloolik while growing up.

Saladin went on to attend clown college, at the National Circus School of Montreal, and joined Quebec's Cirque Eloize, as an actor and acrobat, during a four-year world tour.

Artcirq has given its young Inuit members an alternative to idly wandering the streets – and a chance to see the world.

They have travelled to Ireland, France, Mexico and even Timbuktu, in Mali, where they performed during the Festival in the Desert last summer, and received front-page coverage in the Globe and Mail.

Not bad for a group that began performing in Igloolik's abandoned swimming pool, where old mattresses scavenged from the dump served as tumbling mats.

The group's worldliness is expressed, in part, in the accompanying music, which ranged from somber art-rock to bass-heavy dub to African drumming to light-hearted folk.

They're not done travelling yet. Artcirq has allied itself with clown comrades from Mexico – Cirko de Mente – and Quebec – Les Sept Doigt de la Main – to put together a collaborative performance, called Fibonacci.

Alianait attendees were treated to a viewing of the show, which will now go on the road, taking Artcirq first to Montreal, and later, to Mexico.

But the next stop was Kuujjuaq where Artcirq performed and held workshops.

Then they visited Quebec City, where Artcirq performed a free show at La Grande Place during Quebec's 400th anniversary celebrations on June 29.

The group plans to spend most of July in Montreal, where they will work on fine-tuning their performance, and hold several shows.And, in either late 2008 or early 2009, the group is expected to travel to Mexico.

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