Geoff's Notes

Thu, 03 Feb 2005

Our tour on Wednesday morning was good fun, mostly because our driver had a great sense of humor ("We have three seasons here, last winter, this winter and next winter".) We went as far out north on the point as we could, about four miles, but saw no polar bears in the most likely spot. The wall of buckled ice along the western shore was impressive, and we were told that a recent storm ate away about three feet of that shoreline, presumably because of thawing permafrost as an result of global warming. The only wildlife we saw was lots of caribou all around the town, digging down through the snow cover to eat tundra grass and lichens. The day was clear, and we watched a gorgeous sunrise beginning at 11:25. Clouds came in later, so I couldn't determine when the sun went down, but it stayed light until around 5:00.

That afternoon we performed for 400+ Elementary School students, which was a bit of a challenge, but they were well behaved and seemed receptive. We were then treated to a performance by two native Russian dance groups. The first were Siberian Yu'pik, and their style closely resembled some of the more retrained native Alaskan dance I've been seeing. The second group, also from far eastern Russia, were much more flamboyant reflecting many influences (or that their dance had influenced others, including the energetic men's Russian folk dances I first became aware of when I was in high school). The most unusual aspect of their performance was the high keening vocalizations of the women, very intense and percussive. In this case they were clearly imitating bird cries, at least part of the time. Throughout the dance and song of all these native peoples runs the current of imitating nature in sound and movement, as a part of honoring it and the close relationship all these people have had, and still do, with the natural world.

Thursday morning we attended to opening celebration of Kivgiq, a tri-ennial drumming and dancing festival that brings together people from all the villages of the North Slope. It began with a procession of twenty Iñupiat dance groups (and two troups from away, the Alaska Native Heritage Center Dancers from Anchorage and Hawaiian dancers representing the Bishop Museum in Honolulu). These groups ranged from eight to nearly one hundred in number, usually comprised of about half drummers (all men, most of whom dance as well) and half women and child dancers. They use frame drums of about two feet in diameter afixed to a short handle commonly made of caribou horn and beaten with a long flexible stick that can be used quite gently for the first half of a dance, and then forcefully for the energetic repeat of the same figures in exaggerated form. The processional ended with all the drummers joining together is a celebratory song which certainly filled that gymnasium to the brim with sound!

The processional was followed by representative runners from each group being taken about three quarters of a mile away to race back for the honor of lighting the Seal Oil Lamp. Keep in mind that these young men were running in -10 degrees. The runner from Nunamuit won, and brought up his elderly aunt to light the lamp for the official opening of the event. Really an impressive affair all around.

The afternoon was filled with half hour performances by some of the groups. At 7:00 we did our final performance in the auditorium to a very appreciative audience, and then relaxed by watching the groups from Anchorage and Hawai'i. By that time we were pretty famished, and went out (almost next door) to the Teriaki House for dinner.

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