Unikkaaqtuat comes to the Port Theatre, on Monday, Jan. 20. (Photo courtesy Sébastien Lozé)

Theatre production brings Inuit creation myths to the stage in Nanaimo

‘Unikkaaqtuat’ combines music, illustrations and circus arts

A new collaborative multimedia stage production exploring Inuit creation myths using music, animation and circus performance art is making its Western Canada debut in Nanaimo.

Unikkaaqtuat tells the story of a young Inuk who’s been flown south for medical reasons and then finds himself getting back in touch with old Inuit stories. The show, jointly created by Nunavut production companies Artcirq and Taqqut Productions, as well as Montreal’s The 7 Fingers, comes to the Port Theatre on Jan. 20.

The production is five years in the making and opened at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Jan. 9. That morning 7 Fingers co-artistic director Patrick Léonard said the cast and crew were “tired, nervous, ecstatic, happy and all those emotions at the same time.”

Léonard’s been travelling up north for the past 20 years. He said he’s made strong friendships working with multiple generations of Inuit artists and that it’s important to “bring back those stories to life” for the generations to come.

“Those stories have been told for hundreds and thousands of years through oral tradition and unfortunately in the last 50 years it’s slowly been lost and a lot of the youth either know a little bit of those stories or some not at all,” Léonard said. “So the idea was to say, ‘OK, let’s bring Inuit artists and southern artists together to tell those Inuit stories.”

He said an Inuit-inspired production combining music, circus art and animated projection hasn’t been staged before and when an early version of Unikkaaqtuat was performed in Iqaluit last summer the crowd went “totally crazy.”

“This is something that they can be so proud of and of course it made all of us very proud,” Léonard said. “Because that’s basically the goal of creating this show: We want to, all of us whether we’re Inuit or non-Inuit, the idea is to bring pride and strength to the Inuit.”

The production is mostly in the Inuit language of Inuktitut. Now that Unikkaaqtuat is coming to southern audiences for the first time, Léonard said he hopes to “immerse” those viewers in the Inuit experience while provoking curiosity. He said the artists aimed to be “true to ourselves and to those stories,” which means not shying away from darker themes. He said in the south there is a tendency towards happy endings, an expectation Unikkaaqtuat subverts.

“In this case I think [viewers] are going to be very destabilized, and that’s the goal,” he said. “But at the same time they will see so much beauty in those Inuit artists. So generous and so happy and proud to be onstage to tell those stories.”

WHAT’S ON … Unikkaaqtuat comes to the Port Theatre, 125 Front St., on Monday, Jan. 20. Pre-show event at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby, show at 7:30, post-show chat in the theatre. General admission $53, $48 for members. Tickets available at the box office.



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