Festival Theatre

Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools

The Studio

Neil Cooper

Four Stars

A seismic rumble permeates the air at the opening of this remarkable fourth world meditation on the relationship between Canada’s affluent urban south and the country’s indigenous community in the isolated and often frozen north. At first glance, the show’s creators appear poles apart. Evalyn Parry is a queer folk singer who runs the Toronto-based Buddies in Bad Times Theatre company, who are producing this show as part of Edinburgh International Festival’s You Are Here strand as well as the cross-festival Indigenous Contemporary Scene season. Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory is a Kalaalit, or Greenlandic Inuk, story-teller, writer and performer, who lives in Iqaluit in Nunavut, the newest, largest and least populated territory in Canada’s far north.

Over almost two hours of words, music, story-telling and some of the most intense dance moves ever, Parry and Bathory lay bare the common ground they discovered after they met during an artists’ residence on a ship. Their parallel lives include both having English fathers, and both being sung to sleep with the Skye Boat Song. If these are the icebreakers, where they differ is Parry’s discovery of how Bathory’s community was colonised by her own.

Accompanied by Cris Derkson’s live cello playing and Elysha Poirier’s globe spinning live video feed, Erin Brubacher’s production opts for a low-key formalism that retains a speak-easy vibe to what is a cross-cultural cabaret of sorts. Electronically treated instruments conjure up wordless arias, with both performers criss-crossing personal experiences with elegance and warmth amidst their revelations of hidden history.

A brief interlude encourages the audience to chat about their own experience of northern extremes, after which Williamson launches herself with mercurial fashion into a display of uaajeerneq, a thrilling mask dance given full vent to its thrustingly libidinous intent. As Parry and Williams find accord, their international alliance feels as down-home local as a spoken-word night in an electrifying reclaiming of cultural roots delivered with power and grace.