Sikumiut goes on tour
Iqaluit dancers heading to Kiev

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Jan 31/00) - A small Inuit dance troupe from Iqaluit is gaining international attention, thanks to two big breaks.

The first break came when the fledgling Sikumiut Inuit Dancers and Drummers group performed at the Nunavut Day Celebrations April 1, 1999.

A CBC Toronto executive producer saw the performance and asked them to prepare a seven-minute video that incorporated traditional Inuit drumming, throat singing, and Ayaya songs.

That video was played to a global audience on the network's millennium program, 2000 Today.

"Our performance was broadcast all over the world on New Year's Eve -- and we were the only cultural group to represent Canada on the (2000 Today) program," said Sikumiut manager Gayle Reddick.

It was then that Reddick and choreographer Zinour Fathoullin, who came to Iqaluit from Siberia nine years ago, decided to devote themselves to making the troupe work.

"Because of the success of the shows, we chose to keep going. We created our own name and since then we've become a non-profit organization," said Fathoullin.

Thanks to the exposure gained from the millennium broadcast, the Sikumiut dancers, eight in all, were invited to perform at International Indigenous Day in Greenland.

From there, they were invited on a European tour, which was also a rousing success. Their latest adventure has them jetting to the Ukraine capital city of Kiev to perform at an international theatre festival.

The festival organizers have agreed to pay for the troupe to take the show from Kiev to Latvia, Estonia, Moscow and the Russian Arctic. For Fathoullin, it is an opportunity to meet up with his family, and meet with other circumpolar Inuit communities. "When I heard this was happening, I almost cried," said Fathoullin.

"I'm very excited to stage my Inuit production in my home country. It will be a new experience for so many. I know they will love it."

Fathoullin lived and danced among Siberia's Hunti and Nentsi Inuit for many years before moving to the Canadian Arctic. This project was a natural extension of that experience.

Thanks to funding from the Kakivak Association, Reddick said they were able to pay four dancers for four months -- but that funding has dried up. They will continue to fight to keep the group going, but Reddick admits it's going to be hard.

"I think the people here in Nunavut are just beginning to recognize the importance of what we're doing, but we need support to go on because we're struggling," said Reddick.

"We can't keep this up forever on a volunteer basis."

So while Reddick and Fathoullin plan future fund- raisers and apply for Canada Arts Council grants, the Sikumiut Inuit dancers, who range in age from 16 to 25, continue to practise daily for their next big show.

"The arts have always struggled in Canada, but my goal is to build a professional dance company in Nunavut," said Fathoullin.