I have been asked to write a few words about my experiences with Tulugak: Inuit Raven Stories, but I have to warn you, I won't be objective in any part of this missive. I started working at Canada's National Arts Centre last fall. Shortly after my arrival, it was suggested that I might be a good candidate to work alongside the assembled artists on their ongoing development of their show. Cool! I have been involved with the creation and development of a lot of new work in Canada but... I had never been north of 60... Little did I know just how amazing this experience could be and how different absolutely everything would be once I made it there. So broken objectivity moment number 1: the North, or my very first toe dip into the massiveness of it, is quite simply astonishing. In terms of the many glowing accounts of the land you have likely already heard... Well, everything you have ever read about it is true. BEAUTIFUL.
Tulugak: Inuit Raven Stories was created by Sylvia Cloutier (now of Iqaluit, formerly from Kuujjuaq with a family contingent in Montreal and now Greenland) and Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory (now of Iqaluit, raised in Saskatoon, of Greenlandic and British descent). Laakkuluk is also the self-declared President of the Republic of Tartupaluk (Hans Island). Look it up! She is accepting ministerial applications for her Cabinet and the criteria for success is amazing!. These two formidable talents, and best friends, were seized by a desire to work cross-culturally in the North. Hearing about this before getting to Iqaluit seemed like a good idea. Being there made me aware of its imperative! The complex collection of cultural connectors alive in the co-creative team was pervasive among all the people I met in Iqaluit. In fact, I was surprised by two things: how cosmopolitan the city was and how culturally engaged every individual I met was with the issues facing both Nunavut in particular but as well the larger questions surrounding pan-Inuit identities from Greenland right across to Nunavik, in northern Quebec. I was surprised by this because this is not the common story that is splashed across our media pages. So, during my first trip north I was surprised by culture and overwhelmed by geography.
Lighting designer Rebecca Picherak and I spent 2 days in Iqaluit. While there we feasted on caribou ribs, and sushi made of arctic char. We nibbled on whale, and ate salt dried little fish. We danced to "call me maybe" with a bunch o kids on Wii, and we spent a full morning out on the land ( and the frozen bay) on the backs of snowmobiles. One driver was Laakkuluk who trailed a sled with a caribou fur underneath our butts for warmth. The other driver was Chris, the musical director for the show. There is maybe something better than steaming hot coffee in the middle of a frozen world. But for the moment, I can't quite think of anything.
The day on the land was structured around the ravens and the snow. And everywhere that people were the ravens were sure to go! Strange thing to see: that out in the middle of the white(s), farther off from where people spent their time, the ravens were nowhere to be seen. As we approached town the ravens reappeared. Was strange to see how the ravens were as determined to assert their presence as the people of Iqaluit were, with their brightly coloured houses.
And this, for me, was my first personal raven story. That day taught me that in that space - the North - that ravens and people are linked. It's a pretty interesting story. And it was then I understood why the trip north was necessary. It is difficult -I think- to explain to a southerner how a species like the Raven can be so aligned with the people from the north. Tulugak: Inuit Raven Stories, gives us a glimpse into cultural linkages in the north and how the Raven soars above it all.
Written by Sarah Garton Stanley
Associate Artistic Director of English Theatre