Sharpen your mind and soul with Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools

Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools opened last night at the Great Canadian Theatre Company and it is an uncomfortable, unsettling, powerful, raw and absolutely beautiful piece of theatre.  It is part concert, part conversation between two women and the audience, part magical journey through the North and Inuk culture and a wonderful celebration of women in Inuk culture and by extension all women.

A collaboration that grew out of a friendship between Evalyn Parry (artistic director at Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto) and Inuk artist, dancer and actor Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, who met on a ship that took them from Iqaluit to Greenland, Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools touches on a dizzying number of issues. Colonization, feminine power, life in the North, life in the South, discrimination, identity and friendship are just a few of the themes interwoven in the storytelling and beautiful music.

Parry and Laakkuluk (the show’s two actors/storytellers)are joined on stage by Elysha Poirier who takes care of the stunning video that runs throughout the show and cellist Cris Derksen, who accompanies Parry (who plays guitar and sings). Laakkuluk’s Inuk throat singing is mesmerizing. It is always magical to hear.  

The title of the play itself is interesting. Laakkuluk explains (in an interview for LUMINATO — the show was part of the 2019 festival): 

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.” 

There is a fantastic balance between the Northern and Southern perspectives offered in the show with a deep appreciation and awe of the North. However, you are left with the realization that we southerners just don’t get it. There is an incredible scene when they talk how white explorers perished because they couldn’t find food and that is juxtaposed by Laakkuluk talking about the abundance of food if you know how to see it.

The divide becomes even more heightened when Laakkuluk begins a performance of uaajeerneq, a Greenlandic mask dance. As she climbs through the audience with incredible gymnastics, on what appears to be a raw display of sexuality infused with humour, shoving her body parts into the faces of unsuspecting audience members, there is an incredible uneasiness that is palpable, unless, of course, you are prepared going in that there will be this kind of performance.

While it is fascinating to watch and experience it for its artistic value, there is another interesting perspective on that dance in light of the #metoo movement. 

As women who have had pushy men try to get their way many times before, it was absolutely captivating to watch men fidget and be all uncomfortable in their seats as Laakkuluk performed and invaded their personal space, getting all cozy and taking liberties in front of their faces without their consent. It is very, very powerful.

Actually, everything about the show is brilliant and powerful, although it could shed 15 or so minutes without losing any of its intensity or content — but that is a minor thing. 

There is palpable discomfort or uneasiness that doesn’t easily dissipate as it sinks in how little we understand the North and worse yet how we tried to control it through colonization and other nasty moves. 

However, there is also a wonderful message of hope in an unlikely friendship between two women who come from completely different worlds. They are magic on stage together and offer a deeply thought-provoking theatrical wonder.

Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools runs until February 9, 2020  at the GCTC.