Dancing overseas
Iqaluit troupe on tour in Europe

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Iqaluit ( May 15/00) - The Sikumiut Inuit Dancers and Drummers are back home in Iqaluit after touring the Ukraine and Russia.

The nine-member troupe, which incorporates traditional dancing and drumming with choreography by Zinour Fathoullin, performed in several southeastern European cities for the six-week tour, March 23-May 6.

"Culturally, it was very, very beautiful. It was very exciting," says Fathoullin. Interest in the troupe seemed particularly strong when they performed in Kiev, where TV cameras trailed them.

Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, is home of international theatre festival that had originally asked them over, the local university, and the Opera theatre.

Fathoullin says at the Opera theatre, a TV crew followed them everywhere.

"Backstage, during the performances, backstage again," added dancer Naomi Atagoyuk.

"They filmed us throughout everything ... changing," she says.

Atagoyuk says dancing at Kiev's Opera Theatre -- one of the largest theatres in the world -- was the highlight of her trip.

"I got nervous, I had butterflies in my stomach. But afterwards, I completely forgot about and it just danced," she says.

Asked how she felt the audience responded, the dancer says, "they were surprised."

Fathoullin sighs and sounds tired when he talks about all the interviews he endured, as he prefers to talk about the performing.

"When I started to drum backstage, and the audience started to hear the drums ... after the press conference lots of people came to us and everybody had a shocked response. Just from the sound of the drums behind the curtains," says Fathoullin.

When the audience had watched the troupe's performance, he said he was told they'd never expected anything like what they'd seen.

"It was like from another planet (for them). Lots of people came to me and a few of them were crying. It's the power of drums. It's a very, very spiritual thing. (Inuit) culture is a very powerful culture," says Fathoullin, who originally hails from the Russian Arctic.

"And immediately, two TV stations invited us for TV interviews. People kept asking about Inuit culture because they never knew about it."

Besides the unexpected TV exposure, Sikumiut gained another type of attention. Representatives from France, Hungary and Egypt -- among other countries -- handed Fathoullin their business cards.

He is now trying to sort through them and thinking about the possibility of future overseas tours.

The troupe also performed at an international music festival in Odessa, also in the Ukraine.

"The audience was screaming when we were dancing," says Fathoullin.

Although their performances in Moscow fell through, they danced in the city of Salekhard, in the Russian Arctic.

"Again, very successful performances," says Fathoullin, who managed to visit his family during the five- day stay.

"It was like going back home," says Atagoyuk, about Salekhard.

"It was a big experience. I enjoyed everything. We met lots of different people, we learned a little bit of Russian. I enjoyed seeing many different things."

Now a full-time dancer, she hopes to continue touring around the world.

Fathoullin says the troupe will be touring closer to home in the next few months. They will perform at the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik and in Greenland. They are also considering a three-month tour in Europe.

But first it's time to recuperate and focus once again on raising funds to keep the dancers on their feet -- a task that's never finished.