Next Thursday, the hotly anticipated Toronto premiere of Ikumagialiit (“those that need fire”) comes to Harboufront’s Festival of Cool: The Arctic.

Developed by four powerful women, acclaimed artists Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Christine Tootoo, Cris Derksen and Jamie Griffiths, Ikumagialiit incorporates contemporary Uaajeerneq (Greenlandic mask dance), throat singing, electric cello and beats, with hand-drawn ‘light’ and video. The performance explores the issues and pressures surrounding them, as well as Inuit practices of meditation and spiritual skill-building. The work takes on the metaphor of the bowhead whale, learning how to breathe in the depths. 

We asked Laakkuluk about it this week.

Harbourfront Centre

SDTC: How did this collaboration take shape?

LWB: All the aspects of the show came together at the same time. I had initially been given support from the Kenojuaq Ashevak Memorial Fund (Inuit Art Foundation) and the National Gallery of Canada in order to hold an artist-in-residency and to create a new piece of art. Collaborating with all the artists in Ikumagialiit was of utmost importance, as was being able to create the work at home in Iqaluit. We held the artist-in-residency at Qaggiavuut, the Inuit performing arts society that I am the Artistic Director of. We wanted our community to see us working on art at home, for our young people to be inspired to create their own work and for our children to see what it is like to create art.

Art is often quickly imported out of Inuit homelands as ways of making income for Inuit artists. I wanted to make sure that people knew that we are creating something that we own ourselves, created from within us and for us. We knew from the outset that we wanted the concept to marry immediately with light, voice, sound, music and movement. We pieced the show together like a puzzle and when we took a step back from it, the concept of a bowhead whale helping us descend into the content was immediately apparent: we eat the skin and meat, we dance with baleen, we are surrounded by water.

What was your experience like working with Christine Tootoo, Cris Derksen and Jamie Griffiths?

I work with each of these remarkable artists in a number of different capacities in a number of different projects. It is an incredible feeling to be working together and co-creating this show. Each one of us are pushing the boundaries of our own practises, challenging each other at the same time as supporting one another with love and friendship. We love the feeling of learning pouring back and forth through our almost completely different practises: Jamie, along with her collaborator Rob Scharein, has created an incredible custom software that allows her to live-draw light on stage with us. Christine and Cris are finding non-verbal ways to communicate with each other musically. I feel like I’m stumbling around in awe of what my collaborators are doing. I guess they like what I do too, so I feel very lucky.

What’s the significance behind the word Ikumagialiit? How does it fit into the larger narrative of the performance?

Ikumagialiit translates to “those who need fire.” It refers to the oil lamp we light at the beginning of the show, but also to the power we invoke from within to challenge each other, to change things.

How has the performance evolved since you first started?

People may not know that Iqaluit is the only capital city in Canada, and actually the circumpolar world, that does not have space, a building, dedicated to the performing arts. We created the concepts and the direction Ikumagialiit initially by sitting and visiting in an illugiaq – snow hut – behind my house last spring. Then we moved into the brand new studio space at Qaggiavuut – a wonderful open room that is about 15 feet by 20 feet and about 10 feet high. The floors are still plywood as we have had to wait for the flooring to arrive by ship in the summertime (no ships in the winter in this part of the Arctic on account of sea ice). As we have to with all of our Iqaluit-based theatre work, we created the show planning for and imagining what it would be like to perform on an actual stage with a fly, a full sound system, seating with rake and enough range for a full beam from the projector. We created the show within an egg and only cracked the egg once we arrived at the auditorium at the National Gallery. What a fulfilling experience!

What do you hope audiences take away from this performance?

I hope the audiences hold the moment with us, allow themselves to feel freely and leave with impetus to sink down with us.

Ikumagialiit comes to Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay W) on Dec. 12. If you’re interested in supporting the building of a performing arts space in Iqaluit, check out Let’s Build a Qaggiq!