An epic Inuit play performed entirely in Inuktitut is now on stage in Toronto
Performed entirely in Inuktitut – Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic by The Qaggiq Collective is a unique and important experience for Canadian audiences. Presented at Tarragon Theatre, the performance follows Kiviuq, the eternal wanderer and legendary hero of Inuit stories through five different narratives. The company uses shapeshifting creatures, throat singing and drumming to take you on a magical journey across the Arctic.
Before the performance, I received multiple emails inviting me to read the English descriptive guide to help better understand the show and its stories. Twelve pages in length – the guide gives just the right amount of historical knowledge, hints and narratives needed to fully enjoy the performance. The ensemble does there best to show the stories as clearly as possible while staying true to their traditional practices. Although it is possible to see the show without pre-reading, I was able to sit back and enjoy the performance, stories and characters much more having read the guide.
The cast sits on stage listening to elder-storytellers brought to life by video projections before re-enacting their stories of Kiviuq. The program informs us that these elders are some of the last remaining generations of Inuit that lived their lives traditionally on the land. The stories have a wide range of emotions, from ‘The Orphan’ which follows the sad story of about a bullied young girl, to ‘The Animal Den’ which shows different animals trying to seduce Kiviuq in hilarious acts which the audience audibly enjoys.
In ‘The Battle with Bee Woman,’ Charlotte Qamaniq shakes and creeps across the stage with heavy eyelids before cutting them off to add to her stew. This narrative gave me the chills in all the best ways possible, definitely not for the faint of heart. I was unaware the bees were a scary insect to the Inuit, as the programme states “you can never be sure how much spiritual power such a tiny creature can contain.”
The challenge of staging a show performed entirely in Inuktitut is that it may not be as accessible for casual theatregoers but it is geared more toward those invested in wanting to learn and see new and vital work. The company states that by watching this show, you agree there is an importance of hearing and seeing Inuit theatre professionals working in their language and culture, reclaiming the space that they have not always been allowed to practice in. This company is doing important work for all of Canada.
In the post-show talk, the company mentioned that Nunavut is the only territory/province in Canada without a space to create and present the performing arts, which the company is actively fighting to change. I would love to see more of this company and hope they are successful in bringing more arts to their home territory.
- Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic is playing until January 27th at Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave).
- Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 8 pm, with additional matinees on various days.
- Ticket prices range from $14 – $60.
- Tickets are available online or in person at the box office.
Photo provided by the company.