Quantum Tangle carries winds From the North
> BY ALEXANDER VARTY
Almost 40 percent of Canada can be described as Arctic or subarctic, yet those vast tracts of land are home to less than one percent of our population.
Most of us will never see the midnight sun, paddle the vast lakes of the North, or see snow geese on their nests. But this week we will be able to experience some of the sights and sounds of that terrain, thanks to From the North, a touring program headlined by Quantum Tangle.
It’s a diverse bill, encompassing both dance and music in forms both modern and traditional. But if anything unites the tour’s artists, it’s their love of what surrounds them every day.
“Our natural environment plays such a huge role in our lives,” explains Quantum Tangle singer Tiffany Ayalik, reached with her musical partner Greyson Gritt at an Ottawa tour stop. “It’s extreme warmth, extreme cold, extreme beauty. The weather and the landscape are just so upfront and inescapable that I think a lot of us are very inspired by the land that we come from.”
The Yellowknife duo’s sonic environment includes computerized beats, in addition to Gritt’s acoustic guitar and Ayalik’s electronically looped throat singing. But even when the two venture into the multimedia realm, the land still plays a starring role.
“One piece that we’re performing is called ‘Igluvut’,” Ayalik says. “It’s sort of a love song to the igloo and all of the amazing things that it represents, and how this fascinating, ingenious piece of architecture has been protecting and housing Inuit for thousands of years. And there’s a beautiful film that we project behind us while we sing that was created by my sister and my mom. It shows everyone in my family all joining in and creating this igloo out on the lake.…so that’s a really beautiful moment for us, because we’re singing about family.”
Life in the Arctic is not always idyllic; as has been well reported, a suicide epidemic is sweeping through northern youth. A solution, so far, has been hard to come by—but both Ayalik and Gritt believe that it’s possible to find strength by looking back while moving forward. That’s what inspired “Amautalik”: the text/sound piece is based on a traditional legend about a forest giantess who imprisoned wayward children in an antler cage on her back. It’s also a powerful metaphor for the prisons of poverty, addiction, and despair.
“‘Amautalik’ is a way to remind young ones that there are things up in the woods that can be scary,” Gritt says. “A lot of these things have taken on even more metaphorical meaning, especially after residential schools and the generational trauma that has run through all of our families.”
But isn’t that just like the Arctic? The winter darkness is real, but it’s balanced by the perpetual light of family and lore.
A Cirque du Soleil production. At Concord Pacific Place on Thursday, October 19. Continues until December 31
Kurios—cabinet of Curiosities differentiates itself from the Cirque du Soleil masses not just by its strong, steampunk-styled look, but by the way it puts new twists on the array of acrobatics. In the case of the show’s best sequence, it literally turns things upside down—creating a trick of the eye that, like so many other moments here, might please surrealist painter René Magritte himself.
On one level, the scene is a chairstacking balancing act like those you’ve seen in other shows. Here, it takes place at a raucous dinner party, with one mustachioed member of the group climbing and handstanding his way to the top. But wait: at the very peak of the tent is an identical party of people hanging upside down enjoying their meal—and the acrobat’s equally dapper doppelgänger descending with his hands toward the floor.
Just as awe-inducing—for its artistry as much as its physical feats—is a gorgeously strange conjoined-twin straps act, where the high-flying brothers swing from one arm and stay linked with the other. Then there’s the contortionist act that finds parrotfishspotted creatures forming ever more elaborate sculptures on the palm of a mechanical hand straight out of Metropolis; you lose track of where heads and limbs start and end as they melt into an amorphous mass.
Yes, Kurios is a parade of circus acts, but it creates one of the most strange, fully realized dream worlds that Cirque’s ever conjured here. (The Old World–infused Corteo is the only one that comes close.) Kurios harks back to the age of electricity—antique incandescent light bulbs add an atmospheric warm-sepia glow—but also plays with turn-of-the-last-century circuses and the futurism that fuelled talents like filmmaker Fritz Lang, writer H.G. Wells, and inventors like the Wright brothers. (Primitive flying machines abound.) The costumes are among Cirque’s best, including the legion of robots that look cobbled together from a Jules Verne nightmare, an accordion man who wheezes as he walks, and a top-hatted fellow whose bathysphere belly opens to reveal a live occupant. Gramophones become hats; bouncy metal springs become skirts; and reptilian frills flutter as men fly high from a massive trampoline.
The entire look of the show feels beautifully low-tech—the antithesis of some of the glitzier, Vegas-style spectacles you might associate with the Quebec megatroupe. There’s no more magical example than the hand theatre, projected on a hot-air balloon, that uses a simple fishbowl of water, tinsel, and the world’s tiniest sneakers to breathtaking effect.
It’s one of many unexpected, exuberantly oddball moments from a company that thankfully still remembers how to keep it weird.
> JANET SMITH