Games athletes take to the stage to display cultural heritages


Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2006


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  Team Alaska leads members of the audience in an invitational dance during their performance Wednesday. Photos by Roy Shapley

Team Northwest Territories Aaron Hernandez mixes rap, hip-hop, tango and cha-cha in his performance Wednesday at Soldotna High School.

Photos by Roy Shapley

As spectators watch the many Arctic Winter Games athletes, from the skiers hidden behind masks to the speed skaters all uniformly suited in spandex, it can be easy to forget that each athlete represents a unique cultural heritage.

But if that fact is sometimes forgotten at the finish line it is returned to the forefront in a celebration of diversity at the Games’ cultural performances.

On Wednesday, audience members laughed, sang and cheered as songs in many tongues poured over them from a stage at Soldotna High School.


The show opened with Team Greenland's creation dance spotlighting Raven.

Photos by Roy Shapley

The event brought all of the cultures represented by the Games’ teams to one place where each displayed their unique talents through a variety of performances ranging from elegant dances to singing competitions that broke down in peals of laughter.

Despite a collage of languages, performers and audience members never lost touch.

In a performance by Team Greenland, for instance, Greenlandic artists transcended language barriers as they used their bodies, flutes, guitars and drums to tell a tale of the arctic raven and his seagull wife.


Lenia Larsen and fellow members of Team Greenland warm up in a dressing room back stage before their performance.

Photos by Roy Shapley

In some cases audience members joined in on the action. When Team Alaska performed, audience members filled the stage to participate in a Yupik dance and song. Performing audience members sat on their haunches like weasels looking out of holes, learned Yupik arm gestures mimicking the rodents and made weasel-like noises.

Northwest Territories rap artist, Aaron Hernandez, got the audience singing with his “Hip hop cha cha.” Chanting audience members enthusiastically pumped their fists in the air as Hernandez sang and coaxed them to join.

“When I say ‘oh,’ y’all say ‘yeah,’” he said, directing the eager audience and swinging a white T-shirt to and fro.


Team Alaska leads members of the audience in an invitational dance during their performance Wednesday.

Photos by Roy Shapley

Team Nunavut Inuit throat singers brought an unusual flavor of singing to the stage.

The singers paired off and faced each other with locked arms, then proceeded with a sort of deep-throated, rhythmic dialogue of grunts in which familiar sounds, such as tool sharpening and the sounds made by a dog-team puppy, were imitated.

The result is mesmerizing, but at the same time silly and the singing pairs continue only until one of the two breaks down laughing.

Each of the teams’ performances were separated by Team Yukon’s Leaping Feats, elegant dances performed by artists appearing in a bouquet of colorful costumes.

Although the teams’ performers have taught Kenai Peninsula audiences much about the diversity of cultures participating in the Games, some performers have found they have a lot to learn from each other.

Emilyann White and Shawna Patton, Yupik performers for Team Alaska, said in eavesdropping on Team Greenland one day they learned something new about both Yupik and Greenlandic linguistic heritage.

They found the Greenlandic language sounded surprisingly similar to Yupik, they said.


Katelyn Sulurayok, of Team Nunavut, puts the finishing touches on her makeup before Wednesday's performance at Soldotna High School.

Photo by Roy Shapley

“They were saying some of the same things,” White said. “And the way they form their sentences is the same as us.”

When they questioned Team Greenland they discovered that the languages were related and many Yupik words, such as “quyana,” thank you, and “aana,” mom, were the same or very similar to corresponding words in Greenlandic.

“Through them we learned that the Yupik language is the oldest (Arctic) language,” White said.

Two more opportunities to see the cultural performances remain. They will be held again at the Seward High School Auditorium at 7 p.m. today and at Kenai Central High School at 7 p.m. Friday.

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