SPOTLIGHT: The Arctic Circus of Artcirq

The Igloolik, Nunavut, collective Artcirq is a collaborative, community-based circus and multimedia company that has been creating work, engaging youth and performing around the globe since 1998. And that’s not all! The arctic circus also makes music and has released two albums recently on iTunes.

Co-founded by Isuma Productions and Guillaume Saladin,  Artcirq blends techniques of modern circus like juggling and acrobatics with aspects of Inuit culture including drum dancing and throat singing.

At first, the group formed in reponse to local tragedy. From articirq.org:

Summer 1998, Igloolik, Nunavut. Two teenagers commit suicide, once again shattering this small island community of 1500 residents. Every time a suicide occurs, feelings of despair and powerlessness resurface in this world where two cultures collide. In the Arctic, loss of sense and sorrow are real facts of life. Based on government statistics at the time, 4 to 6 young adults commit suicide every year in Igloolik, which represents a rate seven times higher than in Montreal.

Following the recurrence of such tragedies in Igloolik, some concrete actions are taken to give children and teenagers a medium to express themselves. The initiative of Isuma Productions (movie Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner) forms a group of eight young people, intended to prevent suicide in this small community. The organism Inuusiq, which means “Life” in Inuktitut, is created, and its first mission is to realize and produce, with the help of ISUMA production, a television series about the youth’s life in the Canadian Arctic of today. Guillaume Saladin was a member of this organism, “Inuusiq youth drama group”, and a co-writer and actor of the series. Furthermore, studying at the National Circus School of Montreal at that time, he implements the circus project Artcirq with six others students of the circus school, including Karine Delzors.

The group and work evolved from there. Members of Artcirq have performed in Timbuktu, Mali, Mexico, Greece and France. Six members were part of the Canadian Arctic performers representing Nunvut at the 2010 Olumpic Winter Games and this month, the group will travel to Windsor, England, to represent “The Americas” in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

Both of Artcirq’s musical albums – Artcirq Jam and Made in Igloolik – are credited to be by “various artists” and accordingly it’s difficult to describe the diversity on both albums which showcases various permutations of the groups contributing members. In style, language and instrumentation, they are both delightfully varied and interesting collections of songs. It’s also difficult to pick a favourite, but for a taste, check out this track Anuri from Made in Igloolik:

STREAM: Artcirq – “Anuri”

Both Artcirq albums are available on CDBaby and iTunes.

Music is just a part of what the group creates. This short doc is a great introduction to the breadth of the work of Artcirq. I love co-founder Guillaume Saladin’s definition of circus in it. He says “circus is a pretext – a pretext to create a circle of trust, a space where people can communicate with each other, an area where you can work on yourself, trust the other, and dream.”

Indeed it seems that in its 14 years so far, the group has maintained this practice of creative, communicative, and collaborative process. From the heartbreak of a community’s loss, to the empowerment of movement, music and exploration, their work continues to inspire, represent, delight and move anyone it engages. Keep an eye out for more from Artcirq, and for additional video and music check out their Isuma channel at isuma.tv/hi/en/artcirq.