Artists use improvisation to create unique performances

Photo courtesy of the Chan Centre.

Whenever Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory prepares for a performance, she challenges herself to put on a different mask – made of black grease paint mixed with red.

Like her mask, which is based on a traditional Greenlandic Inuit dance mask known as uaajeerneq, used in rituals performed during the cold winter months, the audience can expect a completely new performance as it is entirely improvised. Williamson Bathory will perform with Tanya Tagaq, a critically-acclaimed throat singer, at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts Mar. 16-18 as part of the Beyond Words series.

“It’s going to be a crazy ride. It always is between the two of us. It’s going to be special because it’s in a very special place. We’ll be able to concentrate on what we do in a way that I think the audience will really absorb well,” says Williamson Bathory, who is also a published academic, poet, and an outspoken advocate for creative spaces, gender equality, and an indigenous political voice.

“When the two of us perform together, it’s like a thunderstorm or it’s like swimming under the ocean. It’s an intense feeling the both of us get. From what I gather, it’s the same for the audience,” she says.

Inspiration for performances

When asked where she draws inspiration for her performances, she says it comes from within her or fellow vocalist Tagaq or even one of the other musicians, violinist Jesse Zubot, percussionist Jean Martin and vocalist Christine Duncan.

“Sometimes when I am putting my mask on, or exploring the territory or going through the audience, Tanya picks up on what I’m doing and vocalizes to that, and sometimes vice versa. I react to what she is doing, and move and react in certain ways because of what she’s done,” says Williamson Bathory.

Tagaq and Williamson Bathory have been performing together for the past few years. Although their art forms and styles are vastly different from each other, they draw on the same source for their performances.

“It’s such an amazing feeling to be able to work with an artist that does something completely different, but completely access the same place inside her to be able to pull out performance. So when she does her voice work, she reaches into the same places that I do to do my mask work,” says Williamson Bathory.

Ancestral Inuit gift

Williamson Bathory says their performance offers a large spectrum of extremes: something exceedingly frightening to something exceedingly funny; something very sexual to something very sweet and innocent. Or both or all of it, she adds.

Tanya Tagaq.| Photo courtesy of Tanya Tagaq.

“Our Inuit ancestors have given us that gift of being able to be the extremes in life and it’s also not just a gift, it’s also through experiences in life, that have been bad experiences, that allow us to perform these things onstage,” says Williamson Bathory, who is originally from Saskatoon, Sask. and is now based in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Williamson Bathory doesn’t take her performances for granted.

“It’s such an honour to be able to be in this realm where people will take all sorts of different perspectives on what they see and experience and hear. It’s truly an honour to be able to do that as an artist, an Inuit, as a woman, as a friend and collaborator. It’s a beautiful experience for me,” she says.

Williamson Bathory believes in an Inuit-based philosophy when it comes to what audiences might take away from her performance – where she gives the audience something to watch and leaves it up to them to interpret it.

“From a philosophical perspective, I can’t say that I hope the audience takes a certain something away from it. I can say I have something to give and it’s up to each audience member to make a decision about it on their own,” she says.


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