A hero’s epic journey in the magical, multidisciplinary Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic

Qaggiq Collective ensemble—Animal Den scene. Costume design by Looee Arreak. Projection design by Jamie Griffiths. Lighting design by Rebecca Picherack. Photo by Jamie Griffiths.

 

Tarragon Theatre presents The Qaggiq Collective’s magical, multidisciplinary hero’s journey Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic. Written by the Iqaluit, Nunavut-based collective, and inspired by the legends of the Inuit hero Kiviuq, the multimedia performance is based on stories remembered and shared by Inuit elder storytellers Miriam Aglukkaq (from Kugaarjuk), Susan Avingaq (from Igloolik), Madeline Ivalu (from Igloolik) and Qaunaq Mikigak (from Kinngait)—passed on in the oral tradition. Directed by Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Kiviuq Returns is performed entirely in Inuktitut, with no surtitles,* incorporating music, dance, movement, mask and projections—immersing the audience in Inuit culture, community and storytelling.

Starring Natar Ungalaq, Charlotte Qamaniq, Vinnie Karetak (last night, understudy Jerry Laisa stepped in for Karetak), Christine Tootoo, Keenan Carpenter and Avery Keenainak, Kiviuq Returns presents five of the hundreds of stories about the Inuit hero. Three actors share the role of Kiviuq (Ungalaq, Tootoo and Laisa), with role exchanges marked by the passing of Kiviuq’s qajaq (kayak) paddle and headband—representing the sharing of power and knowledge among Inuit communities. The four elders who shared these stories are present via video projection, to round out each of the five tales.

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Qaggiq Collective ensemble—Orphan bullying scene. Costume design by Looee Arreak. Projection design by Jamie Griffiths. Lighting design by Rebecca Picherack. Photo by Jamie Griffiths.

Comedy turns to tragedy in the story of the Orphan (Keenainak), turned into a seal for her protection from repeated abuse from bullies by her angakkuq (shaman) grandmother (Qamaniq), who is heartbroken over having to do this. Only Kiviuq (Ungalaq) is spared from retribution while he’s out hunting in his qajaq with the bullies, as he had tried to intervene and stop the bullying. Lost and adrift, his hero’s journey begins.

From the push/pull dynamic of Kiviuq’s (Tootoo) desire to wed a Fox Woman (Keenainak) who just longs to be free (song written by Avery Keenainak and Abraham Etak), to his hilariously bawdy encounter with a den of lusty animals (Carpenter, Laisa, Qamaniq and Ungalaq), to a brush with death when he’s (Laisa) captured by the fearful Bee Woman (Qamaniq), Kiviuq is present and connected to his environment, and the animals and spirit guides that come to assist him. Nicely bookending the five stories, Ungalaq returns to play Kiviuq once more at the end of his journey, where he must stay behind as his Goose Wife (Keenainak) and goslings (Carpenter, Laisa, Qamaniq and Tootoo) fly south and he transforms out of human form to become part of the landscape.

Woven into the Kiviuq stories are a Woman’s Dance; bringing to mind the serious mental health issues faced by our Indigenous population, the woman struggles with a deep internal conflict, eventually overcoming it. And the beautiful Sea Woman Poem (written in English by Taqralik Partridge and translated into Inuktitut by Looee Arreak), featuring Tootoo leading the ensemble. Expressing deep love and respect for the water, the poem despairs at the careless and dangerous environmental damage done by modern-day industry; the movements accompanying the words rippling through each performer. And there’s a song (sound design by Chris Coleman), repeated during each Kiviuq exchange; hypnotic and relaxing, like a lullaby wrapping you in the comfort and safety of home—it stays with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

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Fox elder story. Projection design by Jamie Griffiths. Photo by Jamie Griffiths.

The storytelling is playful, poignant and engaging—having you laughing one minute and breaking your heart the next. The adventure, the shifting landscapes (projection design by Jamie Griffiths), and cast of human, animal and spirit characters keep you on your toes as you let the Inuktitut language wash over you. It’s that ‘kid at story time’ kind of feeling. And the easy-going atmosphere of the relaxed performance format makes for an intimate, enjoyable experience at the theatre. A story for all ages, it’s a welcoming, open door feeling, acknowledging the young and the elders as crucial members of the community.

Kiviuq Returns: An Inuit Epic is in its final week in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace, closing on January 27; get advance tickets online or contact the box office at 416-531-1827. Last night’s house was packed, so advance booking or extra early arrival at the theatre are strongly recommended.

*The production provides a play guide, available for viewing and download online, and in the printed programs. It is recommended that you review the guide before and after the show, as well as reference it during (lights are brought up during scene changes) to aid in a deeper understanding of the performance.

 

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A gothic fairy tale of spiritual connections, mystical protectors & escaping a monster in Brenda Clews’ gripping, magical Fugue in Green

Like a bullet in slow motion, she floated over treetops for as long as it took to blink.

A gothic fairy tale of spiritual connections, mystical protectors and escaping the clutches of a monster, this is the opening line of Brenda Clews’ mesmerizing, magical novella Fugue in Green, published by Quattro Books.

Teen siblings Steig and Curtis struggle to survive live with their cruel, controlling and abusive mother Leica while their filmmaker father Reb is away working in England. Their monster mother is a catalyst for Steig’s escapes into the woods that surround their Vermont home, where Steig finds solace in nature. It is in these moments that we learn that Steig is a magical, elemental young woman who becomes the landscape she loves and shelters in. She also sees ghosts: her grandparents and a former teacher. And the ghosts tell her things. And she has a spritely sentinel: a bird man called forth from her connection to the woods to be her guardian.

Reb lives and works with his dreams—and dreams while awake—the everyday becoming surreal, expressionist visions that surround him; a visual poet, he creates poetry with images instead of words. And what of the mysterious and angelic Clare, a magician with a camera who arrives in his life at the precise moment he needs her—both personally and professionally?

Steig’s younger brother Curtis busies himself with more traditional, earth-bound teen pursuits. While not fully immune to their mother’s unreasonable expectations, unpredictable behaviour and wrath, he bears the least of it. And when their mother goes too far with Steig one day, Curtis launches a plan to flee their mother, contact their father and join him in England. Their journey to safety is fraught with terrifying memories and shared visions, but is also protected by forest spirits.

Secrets are revealed—with devastating results. Reb had no idea about the child abuse going on in his own home; forced to move beyond his own sense of guilt of being so distant from his children, who he realizes he barely knows, he’s determined to make a safe, supportive home for them. He’s been away too much and for too long. Meanwhile, back at the family’s home in Vermont, and realizing that her children are gone, Leica flies into a spiralling, destructive rage that echoes across an ocean.

Supernatural, spiritual connections emerge and reveal themselves; the battle between order and wilderness embodied in the relationship between Steig’s mother and Steig—and even Reb. Love, family, myth and metaphysics intertwine, winding around these relationships as the two children escape the witch at home and into the arms of those who truly love them.

Magical, sensuous and seductive, Clews’ words swirl around you and draw you in; mesmerizing with evocative colours and haunting, ethereal—and sometimes disturbing—images. A short, gripping modern fairy tale, it’s perfect for curling up for an afternoon or evening read, easily finished in one sitting.

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Brenda Clews

Clews is also an artist and a poet; you can view her work on her website, and on YouTube and Vimeo. You can also connect with Clews on Twitter and Facebook.

Creatures of myth & memory in the playful, pointed, evocative Cryptids: Prose-Poetry from Creatures of Memory

Cover art from Cryptids: Prose-Poetry from Creatures of Memory by Dee Sparling     

dee original smallDee Sparling is a local Toronto poet/spoken word artist and singer. We’ve been friends for about 16 years, and folks who frequented Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir, either at Q Space or The Central, will recognize Sparling, who performed poetry and a cappella songs during the open mic spots. She’s previously self-published two poetry collections, Sol Believers: Prose-Poetry from the Orion Spur and Freedom Codes: Prose-Poetry from Empires Within, and has recently published Cryptids: Prose-Poetry from Creatures of Memory.

In the Author’s Note, Sparling describes Cryptids as playing “upon the concept of nostalgia and the role it takes in shaping personal and societal narratives,” as well as featuring “various types of mythical beasts and conjurings.” Cryptids as pieces of memory, and also as mythical creatures and monsters.

Cryptids is a magical, evocative collection of 16 poems, woven with rich, textured language that includes ancient biblical (“Ecce Venus” and “Gethsemane”) and mythological (the nod to the Kraken in “Fimbulwinter”), as well as political and natural, references. Reading these poems, one gets the feeling of being gathered around a campfire, hearing tales both fictional and non-fictional—especially “Credit Valley Cryptids (A Final Goodbye),” which conjures up reminiscences of a different time and place with its compass-eye view of ghosts, shades of history and natural landmarks.

Some of the pieces are playful in their observations, taking the point of view of the creatures themselves (“The Underground” and “Memory and the Moray Eel”) or ponder the situation of a creature (“Sparrow without a Care”). And “Painted Desert” portrays the otherworldly, deadly beauty of a landscape with a cheeky, Wild West flavour—the High Noon of the cacti—while drawing a metaphor for the will to thrive and live, coupled with warnings of more parched earth on the horizon.

The cautionary tone continues into space with “Centaurus Loves Cassiopeia,” highlighting humanity’s sense of entitlement with the line “Earth, thy vanity begins… with the licking of your lips;” into the digital realm in “Troll Bytes” and the perception of power in a world of ongoing obsolescence.

Creatures of politics aren’t spared in the pointed and sharply funny “A Day in the Counter-Revolution,” a satirical evolution of man as political animal. Or was it all a dream? And ruminations on the younger generation and nature take on an introspective, speculative tone in “Millennial Breeze” and “Nature Remembers You.”

Words that paint pictures, reminding us of how tricky memory and perception can be—and how these combine to create our own mythology.

Creatures of myth and memory in the playful, pointed, evocative Cryptids: Prose-Poetry from Creatures of Memory.

Keep an eye out for Dee Sparling at Toronto poetry/spoken word events.

Luminous, organic & abstract works, vibrating with colour & tension in Mediated Space exhibit

Humans react and respond to their environment.
The space, atmosphere and the room ingredients, especially the art. Abstract expressionist art has an active and interactive effect on the occupants of a room – offering windows and doors, mood and attitude where there are otherwise merely walls to contain the space. Come and experience mediated space. – Nora Camps

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Nora Camps & Avril Bull-Jones

Abstract expressionist Nora Camps launched a unique exhibit of her work, along with guest artist Avril Bull-Jones, last Thursday night: Mediated Space at Arbitration Place. The site-specific show had an opening reception, and from there will be an immersive experience for those who work in and use the space.

The idea came from an experience Camps had when her work was incorporated into a house staging a few years ago. When the buyers took possession of their new home, they were distressed. The space didn’t feel right. Something was missing. Turns out, what they were missing was the paintings. In the initial showing of the home, the paintings impacted how they perceived and responded to the space.

Arbitration Place is a dispute resolution facility, equipped with a series of hearing rooms, and a staff of resident and member arbitrators, and in-house legal support, as well as a concierge administrative/services team. Two parties will meet to resolve an issue – and although this is not a trial setting, strong emotions and high stakes will still come into play. How will the presence of these works transform the space and impact the rapport between the arguing sides?

Camps and Bull-Jones are two very different artists, with divergent approaches and media. There is an intensely deep, expressively dramatic feel to Camps’ work, while Bull-Jones’ pieces have an organic, storytelling quality, at times nostalgic and whimsical. And yet, both artists create works that are rooted in a personal response to nature and the space around them – engaging, moving and evoking a response in the viewer.

Abstract expressionist Camps works mainly in acrylic, with pieces ranging from the shimmering, luminous and textured Flowers Silver to the deeper, dramatic palate of Red Trees Reflected, to the sensual and organic touches in On Pond and Below Sea Level 3. Interesting dynamics emerge in how the works are placed in the space (in the reception area, hallways and hearing rooms): Red Trees Reflected is hung opposite Blue Portal in a startling and moving contrast of hot and cold, with the Blue Portal canvas revealing tension of its own, as a red horizontal line cuts across an oceanic blue and white background.

Bull-Jones’ work incorporates a variety of printing processes, as well as acrylic and watercolour, creating images inspired by the patterns and dance of nature. Falling for You is a whimsical portrait of falling leaves. Contrast is evident here as well, the cool blue background of the falling leaves in Plunging Lines hangs in the same room as the hot, organic orange and cinnamon of Balanced Sizzle. There are scenes of anthropomorphized flora in the nature love-in So Special and the emerging figure in In and Out; and an illustration style in the fable-like Mystical Universe, where four elephants ride a sea turtle.

As these spaces get used over the course of the exhibit, I imagine these works acting as both flies on the wall and catalysts to the nature and tone of the proceedings that unfold.

A lovely combination of luminous, organic and abstract – vibrating with colour and tension – in Mediated Space.

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The beauty & power of nature with a touch of whimsy – Inez/Recent Paintings @ Fran Hill Gallery

It was a lovely evening to be at an art opening last night, out of the rain and inside the warm, intimate exhibit space at the Fran Hill Gallery for the opening of Inez/Recent Paintings.

I’d had a sneak peek of the exhibit when I dropped by the gallery to pick up my Blair Sharpe painting a couple of weeks ago – and also met Inez – and I was struck by the vibrant colours, the contrasts of light and dark, and the strong strokes in these beautiful renderings. Inez’s canvasses celebrate the awesome power of nature, as well as its beauty, and with almost whimsical touches – details like the red canoe in “Mazinaw Rock,” dwarfed by the enormous rock face behind it. There are also canvases featuring Fraser Lake – and each has a different mood. Lighter colours – pink and orange – in some, while primaries and darker blues and purples dominate in others.

When I returned to the gallery last night for the official opening, there were lots of folks present – friends, fellow artists and folks from the neighbourhood – also friends of Fran and the gallery – a great, diverse group of people coming out to support the artist and admire her work. The gallery itself has a cozy, intimate feel where strangers make each other feel welcome – this is thanks to the gallery’s convivial owner/host Fran Hill, who is always happy to meet new people, introduce you around and make sure you have a beverage. And the fancy sandwiches served at the opening last night were made by the artist, with the help of some friends. While I was there, Fran introduced me to artists Alex Cameron, who has a show on at the Moore, and Brian Saby, one of the other artists she represents at the gallery.

Another great night of art and friendly folks supporting the artist at the Fran Hill Gallery.

The Inez/Recent paintings exhibit is on until November 4. For more info, visit the Fran Hill Gallery website: http://www.franhill.ca/

And check out these websites for the locations that inspired Inez’s exhibit:

Bon Echo Provincial Park: http://www.ontarioparks.com/english/bone.html

Fraser Lake, Ontario: http://www.bancroftontario.com/index.cfm?vNavID=5&vSubNavID=84&vSub2NavID=43

For more info on Alex Cameron’s current exhibit – A Decade in Review – at the Moore Gallery (on until Oct 27), please visit: http://www.mooregallery.com/MOORE_GALLERY/main_gallery.html

For Brian Saby’s work, check his page on the Fran Hill Gallery site: http://www.franhill.ca/?page_id=37

“Mazinaw Rock” – you can’t see it here, but the little red canoe is at the bottom right
Gallery owner/host Fran Hill
Three more paintings from the Inez/Recent Paintings exhibit
This is one of my favourites – and it sold last night!
Artists Alex Cameron, Brian Saby and Inez.
Fran Hill (centre) and guests – this is another of my favourite paintings