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The circus came to town

Daron Letts
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 25, 2009

KANGIQTUGAAPIK/CLYDE RIVER - The juggling, tumbling, actor-athletes of Artcirq entertained families in Clyde River earlier this month. Their appearances in the high school gym and at the community hall capped a performance tour that also brought the Inuit acrobats through Pond Inlet.

Their adventure got off to a rough start as the troupe of almost two dozen performers, including three babies, was slowed down by a broken skid five hours after leaving Iglulik. Two more Ski-Doos broke down over the next two days.

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Artist James William Wilson of Fort McPherson works on an antler during last year's festival in Inuvik. - photo courtesy of GNAF

A hunter travelling alone without a sled can make the trip from Iglulik to Pond Inlet in as little as 12 hours. It took the Artcirq caravan six days. They almost ran out of food, having only prepared for two or three nights of travel.

"We made a snow iglu and four of us slept there for two nights," said performer Guillaume Ittukssarjuat Saladin. "All of us learned how to take of ourselves and the others. We gained lots of experience. It was great. We made it."

However, five pieces of luggage containing costumes, props and musical instruments didn't make it in time, so the Artcirq show in the Pond Inlet community hall went ahead without the colour and flourish the performers are used to presenting. "The spirit was still there," Saladin said. "It went very good."

After gassing up and restocking supplies, a few circus members returned to Iglulik to streamline the second leg of the journey. Two nights and three days later, the remaining group arrived in Clyde River.

This time the circus members had all their costumes and props. A lot of them also had sniffles and colds. The show went on, anyway.

"Once we're on stage we stop being sick," Saladin said.

Quluaq school principal Jukeeta Hainnu said the performers looked well-rested and healthy, despite the rigours of their journey.

"I thought they would be exhausted and tired and not really functioning," she said. "If I had been driving all night I wouldn't be able to put on a circus, but they came in and they were ready to get on the stage. They did an excellent performance. It was a huge crowd. You could hear a pin drop. Everybody was tuned into the show the whole time."

When one of the actors entered the gymnasium wearing a polar bear costume, many of the younger children thought it was real, Hainnu said. Their physical feats of strength, agility and endurance also captivated the audience of students and community members.

"The performers climbed on each other's shoulders and there were sometimes three of them on top of each other," said Hainnu.

"Their music was addictive. Everything was just marvellously set up. It's a must-see."

The Artcirq Ski-Doo tour was conceived and coordinated by cast member Terry Uyarak.

"He loves to go out hunting and he has lots of experience," Saladin said. "He started planning the trip a year ago and we've been talking about it for a long time. It's not the last time we'll do this for sure."

Artcirq has a busy year ahead, with performances this summer in Inuvik, NWT, for the Great Northern Arts Festival, Alianait in Iqaluit and Aboriginal Day in Ottawa. In October they are off to Athens, Greece, to participate in a theatre festival and next February they perform in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics.