North

Community dance project to commemorate return of the sun to Inuvik

After a month-long winter hiatus, the sun's return to Inuvik, N.W.T. is always an anticipated event — but this year, the community is adding a special performance to its celebration.

Choreographers have been in Inuvik for the past month teaching community members a dance for Sunrise Festival

The Incandescent dance project features members of the community performing alongside professional dancers. The dance is meant to be performed by participants of all skill levels. In Inuvik, 25 community members, some as young as five, will be participating. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

After a month-long winter hiatus, the sun's return to Inuvik, N.W.T. is always an anticipated event — but this year, the community is adding a special performance to its celebration.

Each year, the sun goes down in the Arctic community in early December, and doesn't return until early January. The community celebrates its return with an annual Sunrise Festival, featuring local food, performances, and winter activities.

As part of this year's celebration, two Toronto and Vancouver-based dancers and choreographers have created a piece to commemorate the occasion, and have spent the last month teaching it to members of the community.

Dubbed the Incandescent dance project, the performance includes a small group of professional dancers, backed by a large cast of community volunteers. It's been performed across Canada since 2012, but never in a community as far north as Inuvik.

"We are just sort of sharing dance in a different way rather than just performing, and sort of performers and audience, but giving the audience or community the opportunity to experience it," said Meredith Thompson, who is producing and choreographing the project with Kate Franklin. 

Meredith Thompson, one of the project's choreographers, says that the project is meant to be a means of 'sharing dance in a different way rather than just performing... but giving the audience or community the opportunity to experience it.' (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)
Thompson says the idea of the dance is about the light within individuals, making it a natural fit for the dark-in-winter North.

The pair sent emails to communities across the territories pitching the project, and "within 24 hours, my phone was ringing from Inuvik," said Thompson.

On the other end of the phone was Vicky Gregoire-Tremblay, Inuvik's economic development and tourism manager.

"We thought it was a great opportunity to showcase art," said Gregoire-Tremblay. "Showcase the festival in a different way, and get people active through the discovery of a new activity."

The project was then approved for a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, easing the financial strain on the town, and Thompson and Franklin headed north.

Goal is to perform outside January 7

During their month in Inuvik, Thompson and Franklin have been doing community outreach in addition to choreographing the project, conducting workshops at East Three School and the town's youth center.

Rehearsals started in December, and the choreographers are happy with the turnout.

"We are at about 25 members of the community, which is actually on par. Probably more than what we had in Vancouver, a little bit more and on par with some of the bigger communities in Ontario as well," said Thompson.

The 10-minute dance is choreographed to accommodate all skill levels, and the youngest dancer is just five years old.

The goal is for the dance to be performed outside, "which may be kind of crazy," in a town as cold as Inuvik, said Thompson.

"People in Toronto looked at me like I was crazy when I said that was the goal. But it seems also crazy to be up here in this very, very beautiful place and not perform outside, especially when it's part of the Sunrise Festival."

The performance will begin at 6:00 p.m. local time on Saturday at Inuvik's ice village, part of a three-day festival which begins Friday, January 6.

"This is a different project," said Tremblay. "It's creative, it just brings people out of their comfort zones. They discover something new, they are learning, they are enjoying an activity. I just think it's a great project."

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