Evalyn Parry and Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory were worlds apart before they joined forces to create Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools. Their fusion of words, song and dance forms part of Edinburgh International Festival’s You Are Here season of global performance work.
Parry makes theatre and writes and performs songs in urban inner city Toronto, where she grew up and where she is now artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Bathory, meanwhile, is an indigenous Greenlandic performance artist, storyteller and writer based in Iqaluit, the isolated capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, more than twelve thousand nautical miles from Toronto. While Toronto is Canada’s most populated city, with more than two and a half million people living there, Iqaluit has less than eight thousand residents.
Other than being artists, Parry and Bathory shouldn’t have much in common. When they met, however, they developed a working relationship which fostered Kiinalik. A loose-knit and defiantly non-linear show performed in English, Inuktitut and Greenlandic Kalaallisut, Kiinalik explores the hangover of colonialism and the current crisis of climate change in a very human fashion. In this respect, rather than it being a straight theatre show, its two creators describe it as a concert and a conversation.
Parry and Bathory first came together on a ship as part of an Arctic expedition from Iqaluit to Greenland. For Parry, as the daughter of London born actor and folk musician David Parry, who moved to Toronto in the 1970s with Parry’s mother Caroline, her road to Kiinalik began from a personal root.
“Something pulled me towards the folk music tradition,” says Parry, “and I became obsessed with Canadian songs the same way my dad had been. My experience of things on the trip really altered my perception of Canada and the history I thought I knew. Inuit culture has been erased, and because it’s so far away from Toronto, very few people go that far north, so there is a physical disconnect.”
This sense of dislocation from much of your own country is something Bathory was already aware of, but which was brought home to her even more on the journey.
“It was an environmental expedition,” she says of the trip, “and for me it was a trip of recognising histories. Evalynn and I shared a lot of experience on the trip, which were unique to us as artists. We had many conversations throughout the journey, and both had a lot to decompress. It was the richness of our conversations that created the show.”
Central to Kiinalik is Bathory’s performance of uaajeerneq, a Greenlandic mask dance that reclaims its ancient form using fear, humour and a deep-rooted sexuality to tell stories in a way that was once outlawed.
“It’s a dance that’s both ancient and modern,” she says. “There was a time when it had to go underground, because missionaries said it was devilish, but there was a resurgence in the 1970s. in that sense, what Scotland is going through with England just now, Greenland had it going on with Denmark. There was a big push for autonomy in the 1970s, and the mask dance was an expression of our own bodies and our place in the universe, with all the joy and hilarity and celebration of us as sexual beings that’s in the dance.”
One of the bonds Parry and Bathory found between them dates back to their respective childhoods.
“One of the great surprises we discovered is that we were both put to sleep with our parents singing the Skye Boat Song,” says Bathory.
Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools forms part of Indigenous Contemporary Scene, an August-long showcase of indigenous Canadian live art, which also feature events at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Edinburgh International Book Festival. While the Edinburgh dates of Kiinalik will be the first time the show has gone beyond Canada, it returns there in the autumn, with dates in Ottawa at Canada’s National Arts Centre as part of an inaugural season of indigenous theatre.
“There’s a desire to explore and expand on our culture as it exists today,” says Bathory, “especially around the Arctic, and to inspire people to try and explore their own connections with that culture, and to have a kind of reckoning with it at this time in the twenty-first century.”
According to Parry, Kiinalik “connects climate change with imperialism and colonialism, and that’s the impact of the south on the north. In global terms we’re all connected, so let’s take a moment in a show that tries to look at all that and feel the connections that already exist between us, and hopefully go away afterwards understanding our conversations a bit more, and wanting to try and make those connections better.”
For Bathory, Kiinalik has associations at a global level.
“I really want to help people understand just how big an influence Europe – and Scotland – has had on our lives as a colonised people,” she says. “Scottish people hugely influenced some of the changes that have gone on in the Arctic. Scottish settlers brought accordions and square dancing here, and that’s gradually evolved, but the influence is still there. My joke is that one thing we all have in common is a Scottish ancestor.”
Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools, Edinburgh International Festival @ The Studio, August 2-5, 7.30-9.20pn, August 3, 5, 2-3.50pm.
The Herald, July 27th 2019