It’s a long story… to try to tell it briefly, Laakkuluk and I met on a voyage by ship that took us from Iqaluit to Greenland. We connected – recognized each other immediately as politically-motivated artists – and began a friendship.
Four years later, when I became artistic director at Buddies, i asked Laakkuluk to create a show with me...she said yes and that I should come to Nunavut to make it...so I programmed the show (which didn’t yet exist) for Buddies next season and went to Iqaluit with Erin (director/collaborator) and Elysha (video designer/collaborator) to work with Laakkuluk!
We created some great raw material, and we found a name for what we were making: Kiinalik:These Sharp Tools. Some months later, Laakkuluk came to Toronto for another short period of work before we went into production at Buddies in November 2017. The show was so well received and we started getting offers from around the country to tour, but we agreed the work needed to “premiere” in each of our home communities before travelling elsewhere. So in December 2018, we brought the show – and the whole creative team, which has grown significantly – to Iqaluit. Our time there was very important, and we made some crucial new discoveries and changes. The conversation about colonization, the meaning of “north“ and “south”... these are very different conversations in Nunavut and Toronto.
This is a show that will continue to evolve, because it has to be in conversation with the land and people in the places that we go.
How does the title Kiinalik: These Sharps Tools relate to the work?
L: We always look for parallels in our work together: similarities, opposites, paradox, repetition, asymmetry. Our title is a symbol of many of these parallels. These Sharp Tools is a quote from Evalyn’s thoughts on how all the English folk songs she grew up with are “sharp tools handed down to [her] with no instruction.” Kiinalik is an Inuktitut work with a double-entendre. It means “with a face” as in inuk kiinalik “a person with a face.” This addresses the aspects of identity that we explore in the show. The other meaning of kiinalik refers to the sharpness of a blade. Uluga kiinalik “my ulu is sharp.” In the context of the show, I talk about how I have to make sure my identity is finely honed because of the pressures of colonization to eradicate it.
If you had to summarize the story of Kiinalik: These Sharps Tools in 5 words, what would they be?
E&L: Unresolved, complex, feminine, conversation, concert.
There are a lot of elements (live music, spoken word, song) included in Kiinalik – what do you think is the best way to describe the performance?
L: Both Evalyn and I see our own art forms as our sharp tools. We have brought all these tools together to show one another and to press together for the audience to appreciate that though we have vastly different ways of expressing ourselves and different lives, we can come together to look at difficult issues without creating conflict between us.
How does the piece relate to what’s going on in the world right now?
E: Both in form and content, our show is wrestling with the moment we are living in: inside impossible paradoxes, trying to make sense of our collective history; trying to figure out how to reconcile past and present, how to imagine the future when politically and environmentally, things feel so precarious and complicated. The music, visuals, stories and physicality of the show help to move these ideas out of our heads and into feeling in our hearts and bodies.
What are some of the biggest challenges/setbacks you faced when creating this production/getting into this role/remounting this piece?
E: Certainly the distance between our homes, and the cost of travel between Toronto and Iqaluit was a challenge in creating the piece. Our time creating in a room together was very precious and very brief. It’s a testament to the ingenuity and talents of our whole creative team that we were able to make something so rich and integrated under very real time and resource constraints.
Do you have a favourite line or moment from the piece?
E: I love watching Laakkuluk get into her mask character every night; each performance is different and full of delightful surprises. I also love singing and playing with Cris and Laakkuluk – especially the “Breath it in” song. Every night is such a pleasure to make music together.
L: I adore the moment when Evalyn and I reach out and suddenly we’re holding a warm glowing light in our cupped hands. It is sublime. We sing an old Inuktitut song about cold, death and survival in this moment. When we did the show in Iqaluit in December 2018, the entire audience joined us in the song, in a low, soft murmur. It was so gentle and melancholy that I still choke up when I think about it.
E: Me too! That was such an emotional and memorable moment from the Iqaluit performance.
L: Shoot! How can you ask us this!? We love every part of the whole piece!
Was there a specific piece of art that inspired you to become an artist?
L: In the show, Evalyn says “I am the songs that were sung to me.” And I say “I am the stories that were told to me.” Those are definitely our artistic origins. Also for me, uaajeerneq has always been my cornerstone, and using, learning and relearning my mother tongue.
Do you have any routines that you do before or when you’re creating? Any weird objects or habits that help you be your best creative self?
L: I always have to ground myself in spending time with my family, being outside and going to our camp to have the clearest head for creation time. If I am separated too long from this, I feel foggy and anxious.
E: I need to write by hand. I type things out when I’m ready to edit but the first drafts almost always come out in handwriting. I need a big book, big pages to write on, with no lines – nothing cramps my style more than a tiny notebook! I also need exercise, and I love to be outdoors – I love to walk while I’m working on an idea. We had a lot of fun dance jams while creating Kiinalik. Erin (our director) would put on some music and we’d dance it out before getting into the muck of rehearsal.
L: Oh yeah! The dance jams!
What did winning a Dora Award for Kiinalik mean to you?
L: I’m so proud of our collaboration; of women working together with intensity and intent and for that to be recognized. I love how gratifying and challenging it is to work with all these women that make up Kiinalik. I’m also proud that I’m the first Inuk to garner such an award. An Inuk that has been true to herself and questioning of the system.
The little Dora man is hanging out at my cabin. Much of Kiinalik was born at the cabin, so we felt it was appropriate for him to make a home there.
E: The response to our show has been so incredible, and so gratifying. It’s such a deeply personal work for all of us. Winning the Dora for Outstanding New Play was honestly totally surprising to me – and, as someone who has built a career making formally unconventional work, it made me very hopeful. It made me feel like our local theatre community is opening to up to new definitions of plays and playmaking, craving different experiences in the theatre. Winning for Sound Design / Composition (with Cris Derksen) was a total thrill – I’m so proud of the musical collaboration in the show.
What’s the biggest thing audiences should take away with them after a performance?
L: To question themselves and their surroundings.
E: To allow yourself to be unsettled. We ourselves have been unsettled, over and over in the making of this work, and we are inviting the audience on that journey as well.
Have you attended/participated in Luminato before? What’s your favourite Luminato memory? Do you remember the first time you heard of Luminato?
E: A couple fan-girl moments for me… the Laurie Anderson outdoor concert at David Pecault Square, performing her collaboration/ virtual conversation with Ai Weiwei... and Taylor Mac performing an excerpt of his 24 Decades of Popular Music show in the cabaret tent...
L: I have been once. I performed at the McMichael Museum as an opening to Terence Koh’s tomorrow snow. I was freshly pregnant with my youngest and still feeling queasy, so the long drive between downtown Toronto and the museum was slightly unpleasant from my stomach’s perspective. Yet it was so interesting because I spent a long time with the artists that were assembling and executing Koh’s work. I got to hear about how they made everything work and how they felt about it. It was a very personal and intimate bit of insight into a large project.
What’s your favourite spot in Toronto/the world?
L: I love Toronto and people have always been very welcoming to me in so many realms. My favourite place in Toronto is places and times when people’s heartbeats quicken and their minds twitch with new thoughts and sensations: where art hits the cerebral fan. That is why I always come back to Toronto.
My favourite place in the world is my womb and my mother’s womb and my grandmother’s womb and my daughters’ wombs and my son’s testes. So many people that are the dearest to me in the world have been there and will be there! And the places we have taken our wombs! The sensations we feel holding our insides inside us! The sweet air, the beautiful water, the incredible foods...
E: In Toronto, High Park is a favorite place. In Nunavut, Laakkuluk’s cabin down Frobisher Bay is one of the most special places I’ve ever been.
Why Luminato (i.e. why did you want to present your work and be a part of the festival)?
E: We are so proud to be part of Luminato – to share our work in the context of all the incredible programming from around the globe.
L: Word! It's such a dynamic environment, filled with warm, incredible people. Lucky us to be in the middle of it all!
Experience Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools from June 12-16, 2019 at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto, Canada during Luminato 2019.