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Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools and the artistic struggle of cultural connection
30 October 2017.


by Drew Rowsome -
Photos by Jeremy Mimnagh

Two artists meet on a voyage aboard a science vessel. The boat is travelling from Iqaluit to Greenland. The artists, Evalyn Parry (Gertrude and Alice) and Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, find a friendship, some commonalities, and some seemingly irreconcilable differences. They decide to turn the experience into a performance piece. And that collaboration becomes Kiinnalik: These Sharp Tools which opens Buddies in Bad Times Theatre's 39th anniversary season.

The press materials refer to Kinnalik as "a concert and a conversation," but it should be referred to as a performance piece. Or perhaps a workshop for an eventual theatre piece. There are moments of extreme startling beauty, a lot of provocative ideas, and the real sense of two people fumbling towards trying to understand each other. With large video screen projections by Elysha Poirier, vocal effects, gorgeous cello accompaniment by Cris Derkson, and droning music/spoken word, Parry takes over the first part of the evening with a very Laurie Anderson-esque selection of stories, thoughts, insights and profound-sounding statements.

 

Bathory contributes to the tales before slowly taking over and launching Kiinalik in a different direction. Bathory is a powerful presence, easily holding centre stage and her voice is a hypnotic force of nature. Her stories are exceptionally compelling. And when she and Parry team up in a flashcard round of things they have in common and where they differ, it is sharp and funny, even if Parry is the continual butt of the jokes - referencing "kale" always gets a laugh - and Bathory is consistently virtuous. 

The segments circle around the world's ecological crisis (particularly as it pertains to the Arctic), the horrors of colonization, and how words, names and history affect perception. It is all very sincere and earnest and frequently fascinating, even if designed to make the audience squirm over the nasty bits of our history and how they continue today. There is an excruciating audience participation section to demonstrate how interconnected we, the audience, are with the performers and each other, and then Bathory takes over.

She begins a mesmerizing monologue that roams over tattooing in Inuit culture, the relevance of the sea goddess, death, birth and sex. As she speaks, she applies thick black make-up to her face. Then adds colours, inserts and, before our eyes, transforms into a feral cyclone of emotions made flesh. And then it is time for more audience participation but possibly more than most, even the opening night spotlight cravers, bargained for or could handle. It is primal, brilliant and terrrifying. And goes on for a very long time.

It is a climactic and confusing final act, so Parry and Bathory sit and explain what we have just witnessed. They discuss cultural appropriation, and explain that Kiinalik is not cultural appropriation, apologize for the lack of queerness, justify the lack of queerness as solidarity with the Inuit, Parry apologizes for a particularly horrific moment in Canadian history, and the two make a half-hearted attempt to connect the stories and ideas in the opening section, now only dimly remembered, into a coherent statement. As a lecture or a demonstration of how difficult and complicated reconciliation and collaboration is, it all makes sense even if it isn't terribly theatrical or ultimately satisfying. 

The program for Kiinalik begins with a mission statement, a manifesto by the artists: "Let it be the beginning of a conversation . . . Let it be complex. Let it be unresolved." In that they have succeeded. The conversations afterwards were filled with puzzled questions, praise, condemnation, big dollops of elitist guilt, and more than a few incidents of sanctimonious smugness. As a first step to grappling with difficult discussions that we need to have, no matter how harrowing, Kiinalik is a heartfelt and fervent start. As performance art, it is just short of superlative. As theatre, it is still unresolved.

Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools continues until Sun, Nov 5 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com

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