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Clowning around on top of the world

Youth circus troupe Artcirq has taken the Arctic — and the world — by storm. It’s more than just child’s…

By Jacqueline Ronson , in Northern Lights in the City , on March 2, 2011 Tags: , , , , , ,

Youth circus troupe Artcirq has taken the Arctic — and the world — by storm. It’s more than just child’s play.

Artcirq is based in Igloolik, Nunavut, and gives the young people there an outlet, something to take pride in.

Art production has been survival strategy of the Inuit since the nomadic hunting groups settled in communities run by the federal government in the mid 20th century.

In the 1999 documentary, Journey to Nunavut: The Kreelak Story, Martin Kreelak describes how two Canadian artists came from the south in the 1960s and taught printmaking to the people of Baker Lake. Through art, some members of the community reconnected with their traditions and gained a measure of financial independence from the government.

Artcirq has helped Igloolik in a similar way, using performance and athleticism as a means for cultural expression. Their shows incorporate traditional elements such as Inuktitut songs, drum dancing, throat singing and strength competitions.

Artistic director Guillaume Saladin brought his circus training and a passion for the people of the North with him when he came to Igloolik from Quebec over a decade ago. Up Here magazine named him 2008 Northerner of the Year.

In 2009 Artcirq travelled over 1,000 kilometres by snowmobile from Igloolik to Pond Inlet to Clyde River and back to share performances and workshops. Filmmaker Derek Aqqiaruq documented the journey. The resulting film was recently posted to IsumaTV.

Although Artcirq has travelled extensively — they performed as part of Vancouver’s 2010 Cultural Olympiad — their snowmobile tour may have been one of their most important and formative journeys.

The excursion featured Inuit guides, filmmakers, reporters, musicians and performers. Babies and young children came along. The travelers endured many setbacks as snowmobiles broke down and spare parts were delivered. Young people learned valuable skills for camping and traveling on the land.

I recommend watching the whole film, but if you only have five minutes, skip to 38 minutes in and listen to David Ikiarialuk from Clyde River speak about how Artcirq is spreading pride and joy in Nunavut.

He says it better than I ever could.