Unikkaaqtuat makes its world premiere at the NAC

Terrence Uyarak and Neil Christopher are feeling the pressure. They are just hours from debuting their Unikkaaqtaut at the National Arts Centre Thursday evening, and they don’t take the venue for granted.

“We need two more weeks to finish this circus show,” says Terrence Uyarak co-artistic director and performer in the show, quoting fellow co-artistic director Guillame Ittukssarjuat Saladin, who asked the team collaborating on the mixed media show if a live production is ever truly finished. “It’s the way circus goes,” chimes in Neil Christopher another of Unikkaaqtaut’s co-arstistic directors. “We’ve had to become comfortable in the fact that this is it.”

The collaboration between Taqqut Productions, The 7 Fingers and Artcirq weaves circus and animation together to take audiences back to an ancient realm, before Inuit peoples encountered settlers.

While Uyarak and Christopher say all parties valued the time they spent together, Uyarak says sharing knowledge is deeply rooted in his community and culture. “For us Inuit, we want to do things with different people,” says Uyarak. “We grew up like that. Everything is with family and friends.” He says the company Artcirq have become family.

Showcasing language and oral history

Culture continues to be the central theme of the show. In fact, it is entirely performed in Inuktitut. For an Inuit audience it will tell one story but it will be something different for other audiences. Uyarak and Christopher say that layering of experiences is intentional.

Starting 2020 with a show in Inuktitut is important to the co-directors who say language needs to be protected and promoted in Canada. Last year marked the International Year of Indigenous Languages but Uyarak and Christopher say this should be a constant priority.

“There were some really difficult meetings where some people were saying no one’s going to understand,” says Christopher. “It’s very important that the language is front and centre.” He says there will be materials on hand for people looking to learn more.

Cultural integrity is a keystone of the show, especially by bringing the Germaine Arnaktauyok artwork to life. Her pieces are known for showing the beauty of Inuit peoples and culture. She’s already in town to see Unikkaaqtaut but has been consulting on the show.

Uyarak and Christopher, along with the rest of the team, say their guiding compass heading into Thursday’s debut is honouring Arnaktauyok’s work but also enjoying the venue that is hosting the premiere. “This is really quite something, this is a cultural centre of Canada,” says Christopher. “I just feel really lucky.”

Unikkaaqtuat runs at the National Arts Centre from January 9-12.

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