We’re hugely excited to welcome Evalyn Parry & Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory to Edinburgh for the inaugural Indigenous Contemporary Scene Scottish programme with their powerful work, Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools, which runs as part of the Edinburgh International Festival this year. They’ve just performed Kiinnalik at the Luminato Festival in Toronto and spoke about the inspiration behind the development of the work.

Tell us about the journey of the original piece to where it is today?

E: Laakkuluk and I met on a voyage by ship that took us from Iqaluit to Greenland. We connected – recognized each other immediately as politically-motivated artists – and began a friendship. Four years later, when I became artistic director at Buddies, I asked Laakkuluk to create a show with me…she said yes and that I should come to Nunavut to make it. So I programmed the show (which didn’t yet exist) for Buddies next season and went to Iqaluit with Erin Brubacher (director/co-creator) and Elysha Poirier (video designer/co-creator) to work with Laakkuluk. We created some great raw material, and we found a name for what we were making: Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools.

Some months later, Laakkuluk came to Toronto for another short period of work before we went into production at Buddies in November 2017. The show was so well received and we started getting offers from around the country to tour, but we agreed the work needed to “premiere” in each of our home communities before travelling elsewhere. So in December 2018, we brought the show – and the whole creative team, which has grown significantly – to Iqaluit. Our time there was very important, and we made some crucial new discoveries and changes. The conversation about colonization, the meaning of ‘north’ and ‘south’; these are very different conversations in Nunavut and Toronto.  

This is a show that will continue to evolve, because it has to be in conversation with the land and people in the places that we go.

How does the title Kiinalik: These Sharps Tools relate to the work?

L: We always look for parallels in our work together: similarities, opposites, paradox, repetition, asymmetry. Our title is a symbol of many of these parallels. 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 are a lot of elements (live music, spoken word, song) in Kiinalik – what do you think is the best way to describe the performance?   

L: Both Evalyn and I see our own art forms as our sharp tools. We have brought all these tools together to show one another and to press together for the audience to appreciate that though we have vastly different ways of expressing ourselves and different lives, we can come together to look at difficult issues without creating conflict between us.

How does the piece relate to what’s going on in the world right now?

E: Both in form and content, our show is wrestling with the moment we are living in: inside impossible paradoxes, trying to make sense of our collective history; trying to figure out how to reconcile past and present, how to imagine the future when politically and environmentally, things feel so precarious and complicated. The music, visuals, stories and physicality of the show help to move these ideas out of our heads and into feeling in our hearts and bodies.

What’s the biggest thing audiences should take away with them after the performance?

L: To question themselves and their surroundings.

E: To allow yourself to be unsettled. We ourselves have been unsettled, over and over in the making of this work, and we are inviting the audience on that journey as well.

This interview was written originally for the Luminato Festival in Toronto, Canada.

Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools is presented by Edinburgh International Festival as part of You Are Here and supported by Canada Council for the Arts. Originally developed and co-produced by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille.

Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools runs from 2 – 5 August 2019 at The Studio.