Review: Ikumagialiit (Harbourfront)

Ikumagialiit is an improvisational, elastic performance that is ‘an intense, beautiful, and terrifying experience’.

If there was a performance version of an all-star game (and that’s an amusing idea) then the North team would clearly be anchored by Laakuluk Williamson Bathory, Christine Tootoo,  Jamie Griffiths, and Cris Derksen. There isn’t, but don’t despair – the quartet is already working as though there were, and has created Ikumagialiit (“those that need fire”) to show you how it’s done. The improvisational, elastic piece showed for one night at Harbourfront’s Festival of Cool: Arctic to a sold-out crowd.

Anchored by Williamson Bathory, who has appeared recently on other Toronto stages, the piece is loosely narrative but the arc is familiar nevertheless – the journey through the place of despair and into what comes next.  Moving largely beyond text (Ikumagialiit has some language but mostly not, making it very accessible across language communities) also means that the audience has considerably more responsibility in the interpretation. What comes beyond despair is written in light and sound and breath.

Each of the performers is, in and of themselves, a marvel. Cris Derksen’s  built soundscapes could improve literally anything, and in Ikumagialiit the music takes on an outsize importance as it’s a key part of the performance’s communication so we appreciate Derksen extra for helping us pace our feelings. Jamie Griffiths paints with light, live onstage, using custom software and technology that allows her to literally actually highlight and decorate what’s happening as it’s happening from a command center stage left. It’s wild to watch, and some of her choices that night were  just heartbreaking in the best possible way.

Christine Tootoo, the accomplished actor, is also a delightful musician and sings, plays the accordion, harmonizes and performs throat-singing in Ikumagialiit as her character also accomplishes a wild and beautiful act of rope bondage live onstage. Laakuluk Williamson Bathory centers the performance, performing her movement through the emotional moments of the show and finishing with Uaajeerneq, the Greenlandic mask dance which – if you have never seen it performed – is an intense, beautiful, and terrifying experience.

My only complaint about Ikumagialiit as a whole is that it doesn’t feel like it has quite gelled. Ultimately it felt to me more like four exceptionally talented people working near one another than with; the synergy of everyone uplifting each other just out of reach. I wished for another week of rehearsal for them, to lean into each others’ patterns and quirks. Ikumagialiit is very, very good, but transcendence seemed so tantalizingly close that I hope the four can find the time to actualize it.


photo of the cast provided by the company.