Inuit Myths Come Out of the Shadows

Unikkaaqtuat © illustration Germaine Arnaktauyok; graphic treatment Heather Campbell

Inuit founding myths are the inspiration for Unikkaaqtuat, a cross-cultural blending of circus arts, theatre, music, and video. The actors, musicians, and acrobats of Unikkaaqtuat perform in a world of shadows and video projections, transporting us to an ancient realm where life did not know death, days had not seen nights, and where Inuit had not encountered white people.

“When a culture loses sight of its own myths, it’s a sign that it’s in danger.”
Guillaume Ittukssarjuat Saladin, Artcirq

“What we wanted to do was to help keep those founding myths alive,” said Guillaume Ittukssarjuat Saladin of Artcirq, one of three companies that are collaborating on the new production. “When a culture loses sight of its own myths, it’s a sign that it’s in danger.”

Protecting Inuit culture has become Saladin’s life work. He co-founded Artcirq, an Inuit circus company based in Igloolik, Nunavut, in 1998 as a response to youth suicide. The idea was to give children and teenagers a medium through which they could express themselves. Since its founding, the Inuit performing arts collective has performed across Canada and internationally, with original work that bridges traditional culture and modern artistic practices.

Presented by NAC Indigenous Theatre from January 9 to 12, Unikkaaqtuat will bring together Inuit and non-Inuit artists, led by the musicians and circus artists of Artcirq, circus artists from The 7 Fingers of Montreal, and a similarly diverse team of designers and technicians. Iqaluit’s Taqqut Productions and director Neil Christopher are developing the show’s video content from work created by world-renowned Inuit artist and illustrator Germaine Arnaktauyok.

The production received an investment from the National Creation Fund, which invests up to $3 million a year in the development of 15 to 20 compelling and ambitious new Canadian works in theatre, dance, music and  interdisciplinary performing arts. Fuelled entirely by donors, the Fund provides Canadian artists with the additional time, space and resources they need to create great work. In the case of Unikkaaqtuat, the investment made possible residencies in Igloolik and Montreal, providing additional and highly needed time for research and creation.

Created by a new generation of storytellers and performers from across Nunavut and Nunavik, Unikkaaqtuat highlights the talents of Inuit artists at a national and international scale, fostering a unique environment for cross-cultural collaboration, while honouring the Inuit, their traditions, and their vision for a future beyond this project.

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