Monthly Archives: October 2019

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Sletten//Narsarsuaq – Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival 2019

Sletten//Narsarsuaq is the most powerful piece of theatre I have ever seen. The highlight of the Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival in 2019 for me, I am still deeply affected by these stories and the remarkable performances I experienced.

The Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival (also known as Nuuk Nordisk) is a biannual week-long festival that brings together artists from throughout Nordic countries.  As soon as the early-bird tickets were released back in April, I bought mine – allowing me unlimited access to almost everything that would happen during the festival week.

I had no idea what to expect. But when the program came out several months later, my eyes were immediately drawn to a series of performances that would be held in the “Blocks” – old, run-down apartment buildings that still occupy prime real-estate in central Nuuk.

The official poster for Narsarsuaq // Sletten

Nuuk’s Apartment Blocks

I have a strange fascination with the Blocks. Particularly Block P, which was the largest and has become the most famous of them. It was demolished in 2012, 5 years before I visited Greenland for the first time. But that has not stopped me from seeking out information and pouring over the display about it in Nuutoqaq – the Nuuk Local Museum, which features photographs and other items rescued during the demolition. I even found and bought a book about Block P in the Nuuk Art Museum during the week of the festival!

Part of the exhibition about Block P in Nuutoqaq - Nuuk's local museum
Part of the exhibition about Block P in Nuutoqaq

The Blocks were built in the 1960s/70s as part of the Danish Government’s G60 program to urbanize Greenland and move people from the small settlements into larger towns and cities. The aim was to give the Greenlanders the same standard of living as that which existed in Denmark – an admirable aim to be sure. However, having to transition from an Inuit hunter to an apartment-dwelling city worker essentially overnight was too much for many of the displaced locals, and the social ramifications are still felt throughout Greenland.

Some of the Blocks in downtown Nuuk
Some of the Blocks in downtown Nuuk.

Narsarsuaq//Sletten

This is exactly what the Narsarsuaq//Sletten multi-performance theatre was about. The description of this large production was essentially as follows:

Narsarsuaq//Sletten. The Blocks 1-10. This area tells the newer story of Nuuk, and of Greenland.

In the 70’s the urbanization of Greenland took place and many small settlements were forced to close. Fishermen and hunters came with their families from beautiful areas along the coast, and were suddenly put into small apartments. What happened? How was it. How is it?

Some were happy (they had all the modern conveniences) and were able to build good strong families. Others lost themselves and their identities.

The Narsarsuaq//Sletten today is full of memories and stories – beautiful, hard, fulfilled, unfulfilled, warm and devastating stories. Stories of the lives that have been lived over the past 30 years and continue to be lived.

Nuuk Nordisk Program 2019

Pink handprints adorn one of the walls of an apartment in Block 1 - currently being demolished in Nuuk
Pink hand-prints adorn one of the walls of an apartment in Block 1. This Block is currently being torn down – erasing more stories of the lives that have been lived there.

The 5 performances making up this epic show each touched on different aspects of this urbanization project. A production by Teater FreezeProductions, directed by Hanne Trap Friis and featuring some of Greenland’s best actors, dancers, writers and storytellers, I couldn’t wait until they played in English during the last 3 days of the festival (they were in Greenlandic during the first 3 days).

“The View”

“Out this window I have a view of one of the Blocks. Out my other window, I have a view of another of the Blocks. Where I used to live, my views went on forever…”

The View

So begins the monologue of an old Greenlandic lady sitting at her kitchen table in her apartment in Block 2. Makka Kleist delivered an extraordinary solo performance, drawing us in with her storytelling as she reminisced about her life in the settlement with her beloved Kali. At intervals, these happy memories were interrupted by noises from neighbouring apartments, and both she and the audience would abruptly return to the new reality. That of city life in a small apartment.  

The way she tells it, there certainly were advantages to moving into the Blocks (it was warm, there was running water, everything worked at the press of a button), but it is clear that her heart still longed to be out in the fjord living the harder life.

“Sletten”

This was the most powerful piece of theatre I have ever seen! Kudos to Kim Leine who wrote it, and Helene Kvint, Karina Møller and Thomas Knuth who performed it.

The story is about a Danish nurse and his wife who come to Greenland for a 2-year stint in the hospital in Nuuk.  It is a no-hold-barred look at the relationship between Greenland and Denmark that is played out in the interpersonal relationships of this couple and a Greenlandic woman who has an affair with the husband.

A scene from Sletten

What made it so powerful were the subjects that it broached and the way in which it broached them – head on, in your face, with no holds barred. But also, the fact that it was performed in such a small space. The audience was sat along the two long walls of what I imagine was the living room/kitchen in one of the apartments. The room was about 6m wide and perhaps 15m long (probably an over-estimation), and most of the action took place in the middle of the room. The actors were so close to the audience that you couldn’t help but feel as if you were in the middle of what was going on. And the fact that the actors actually acknowledged the audience as part of the play when they entered the room for the first time, cemented the fact that we were all in this together.

Scene from "Sletten" showing how close the audience is to the performance - part of Sletten//Narsarsuaq
You can’t help but feel like you are part of the scene when the stage is this small and you are sat in the thick of the action

I have never been so affected by a performance in my entire life!

And I have no connection with the history between Greenland and Denmark.  I cannot imagine what it must have felt like as a Dane or Greenlander to have your relationship portrayed in such a raw manner. Certainly, there were many eyes that glistened with tears (my own included) by the end of the performance, and the standing ovation the actors received could only begin to express how much we had been all been affected.

In Zombieland

This was another powerful experience based on stories from the collection of novels written by Sørine Steenholdt. Through poetry, dance and music, three young people explored the dreams, fears and hopes of Greenland’s youth while raising to the fore many of the social issues that affect them. Amazing performances by all three actors (Amisuna Berthelsen, Hans-Henrik Suersaq Poulsen and Nukakkuluk Kreutzman), touching on suicide (Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world), drunkenness and child abuse. No photographs were allowed during this performance.

Boy meets Concrete

I have to admit, I’m a very literal person and not really into interpretive dance. However, I did go to see this performance which apparently explored how “the soft human soul and flesh meet the challenge of the concrete, of the city”. No photographs were allowed during this performance.

Remembering Lisa

The final performance in the series told the story of “Lisa” – a Greenlandic woman who was murdered in Block 6 back in 1985. How many of the current residents of Nuuk remember that this happened? The answer: not many.

And this was the point of the performance. Showing how we should never forget people’s lives, no matter how “ordinary” they may have been.

"Lisa" serving tea in her kitchen to welcome us to the performance "Remembering Lisa", part of Narsarsuaq//Sletten
Lisa serves us tea as she welcomes us to her kitchen in “Remembering Lisa’

The story was told through a re-enactment of what may have taken place on that fateful day. Amidst the certainty of the football game happening at the stadium, the fact that kids would have been playing outside between the blocks, and the knowledge of the weather on the day and who the Prime Minister of Greenland was at the time, it is still unknown who killed Lisa. Possible scenarios for the 3 suspects were played out, with two of them rooted once again in the social issues that are still found in Greenland. 

A light-hearted moment arises about two-thirds of the way through when Lisa decides that she wants to change the outcome of the story and not end up dead. She forces a re-work of each of the scenarios, interacting with each of the potential suspects in a more generous manner to see if that could make a difference.  In two of the scenarios – the outcome was different. But the third…

Lisa consoling one of her suspected murderers in order to try to effect a different outcome in "Remembering Lisa", part of Sletten//Narsarsuaq
Trying to rewrite history in “Remembering Lisa”

Final thoughts on Narsarsuaq//Sletten

I have no idea whether this amazing epic will ever be shown elsewhere or ever again. I am so thankful I was able to experience it.

Staging it in the Blocks themselves was absolutely inspired, and I heard the director discuss this as a conscious (and necessary) choice at an Artist Talk during the Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival.  The performances would still be amazing in another venue, but to be couped up in the heart of where these stories took place was particularly powerful.

I cannot thank Teater FreezeProductions and all the people involved enough for such an incredible experience. The absolute highlight of Nuuk Nordisk for me.

Recommendation

If you are interested in experiencing a wide range of Nordic culture and art, you should time your visit to Greenland to coincide with the bi-annual Nuuk Nordic Culture Festival. Read more about the festival itself in this article about Nuuk Nordisk, and discover more of what there is to see and do in Greenland’s capital city in the Ultimate Guide to Nuuk.

Discover more about Greenland

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Nuuk provides a complete list of festivals that take place throughout the year in Greenland’s capital. It also has loads of practical information on how to get to Nuuk, how to get around, where to stay, where to eat, and what to do once you arrive.

You can read more about my experiences in Greenland both here and on my Greenland-specific blog at Guide to Greenland.

For more information about Greenland, the best websites are Guide to Greenland (which is also a one-stop-shop for many of the tours available), and Visit Greenland, the Government tourism site.

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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2019 Akisuanerit Festival – Nuuk

After 2 long years of waiting, I finally got to see my absolute favourite band in all the world – Nanook – play as part of the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk. Featuring both domestic and international artists and a wide range of musical styles, this 3-day music festival is one of the biggest in Greenland and a great place to discover musicians from the world’s largest island.

My favourite band – Nanook

Nanook were one of the first acts to be announced for this year’s festival, and I think I may have been first in line to buy a ticket to the Saturday night when they were released. There was no way I was going to miss them this time! The added bonus was that another of my favourite Greenlandic performers – Kimmernaq – was also scheduled to play the same night, as was the headline performer – Danish artist, MØ.

Akisuanerit Festival – arriving at Katuaq

Months after buying the ticket, the big night finally arrived.  Determined to reclaim “the spot” I had occupied for the Ole Kristiansen concert in the Katuaq Foyer earlier in the year (one of the best places for short people like me), I rushed my friends through dinner and out the door so that we would arrive early.

Lineup poster for the Akisuanerit Festival 2019 in Nuuk, Greenland
Program for Akisuanerit 2019

Unfortunately, I had not read the schedule very closely and we found the doors still firmly locked when we arrived at 8:30pm. I thought the first act was scheduled for 9pm, but it turned out that was when the doors would be opened.

Oops! 

I wasn’t the only one to be making my friends stand out in the cold, however. Elaine – a 68 year old lady from Florida and another enormous Nanook fan – was also stranded outside.  When we were finally let in, I headed straight for “the spot” and claimed it with no worries at all. But I think my friends will double-check anything written in Danish next time before taking my word for it 🙂

Akisuanerit Festival – Kimmernaq and Adam

The first performers of the night were Greenlandic singer Kimmernaq and her brother Adam. I’d come across Kimmernaq about a year ago and immediately fell in love with her amazing voice and many of the songs off her two albums. Perhaps this isn’t surprising given her second album was written by Frederik Elsner from Nanook!

Covers of Kimmernaq's 2 album

I had heard her songs performed by many local musicians in towns and settlements around Greenland, but I was really excited to actually hear her in person. She was fab!

Kimmernaq and her brother Adam playing at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk 2019
Kimmernaq and Adam

She sang a mixture of songs during her performance, including many of her own as well as a few Radiohead covers that allowed her and her brother to harmonize gloriously. Adam turned out to be an incredible singer in his own right, performing a solo, melancholic folk-style song that aligned exactly with the type of music I love. What an incredible start to the night!

Adam, Kimmernaq and Nathan performing at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk, 2019
Adam, Kimmernaq and Nathan

Their set culminated in an amazing hip-hop collaboration with several other Greenlandic artists, including Nina Kreutzmann Jørgensen, Pilu Lynge and Da Bartali Crew. Something very different to her usual stuff – and seriously, seriously awesome! Yes, even for someone who is not into hip-hop music.

Adam, Kimmernaq, Nina, Pilu and Da Bartali Crew performing a hip-hop collaboration at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk, 2019
Adam, Kimmernaq, Da Bartali Crew (back), Nina and Pilu performing their hip-hop collaboration

Buy music from Kimmernaq at: Atlantic Music Shop, iTunes


Akisuanerit Festival – Nanook

Next up was the band I had come to see – Nanook. I discovered their music about 2 years ago when I was living in Ecuador and have listened to almost nothing else ever since! If you’ve been following me for a while, you will have seen my blog posts about them both here and on Guide to Greenland 🙂  I had been trying to see them play live since 2017 (I missed them by less than 12 hours in Sisimiut in 2018) and I finally got the chance here in Nuuk.

Nanook official image

The wait was totally worth it!

They started out with the amazing soundscape of Minguitsuugami – one of my favourite tracks off their latest album, Ataasiusutut Misigissuseq – and played a mixture of old and new songs from their 11-year career.

Greenlandic band - Nanook - performing at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk, 2019
Nanook

There is something really special about seeing your favourite musicians play live, and it can only be surpassed when they actually give you a shout-out/name-drop in the middle of their performance 🙂  One of the highlights of my year!

I love these guys!

Buy music from Nanook at:  Atlantic Music, Amazon (Nanook, Ataasiusutut Misigissuseq), iTunes, Spotify


Akisuanerit Festival – Tarrak

A surprise addition to the program was Greenlandic rapper, Tarrak. Performing with KimoJax, they sang his controversial hit “Tupilak” – a song that highlights some of the difficult aspects of the relationship between Greenland and Denmark.

Tarrak and KimoJax performing Tupilak at the Akisuanerit Festival, Nuuk 2019
Tarrak (left) and KimoJax (right) performing “Tupilak”

The linked YouTube clip includes an English translation of the lyrics, and although I am not a fan of rap, I think this song is amazing.

Akisuanerit Festival – Julie

Julie Berthelsen is one of the biggest Greenlandic pop singers, and insanely popular judging by the reaction of the masses who had packed into the foyer of the Katuaq Cultural Center by this time.

Julie singing her very popular songs at Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk, 2019
Julie

Personally, her music is not my cup of tea. But I have to admit to liking the song “League of Light” which she sang with Nina Kreutzmann Jørgensen as Greenland’s entry to the Danish qualifier for Eurovision 2019. Nina joined her on stage again at the Akisuanerit Festival to finish off her set with this number.

Akisuanerit Festival –

The headline act for the 2019 festival was internationally famous Danish singer, . To be honest, I had no idea who MØ was or what her music sounded like (yes, I can be a little behind the times), but given I was there I figured I should stay awake, stick around and give her a go.

She. Was. Amazing!

MØ performing at the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk 2019
MØ was fabulous

She didn’t appear until about 1:20am, but when she did, her energy and stage presence were amazing and her vocals were flawless. I’m now a massive fan!

MØ and her band playing in Katuaq, Nuuk

Summary

For a person who normally goes to bed around 10pm, this was a huge night! MØ finished at 2:30am and I had a 30-minute walk to get home afterwards. Even then, I found it difficult to fall asleep. Between the ringing in my ears and the high of finally seeing Nanook play live – my brain would not let go of the awesome night.

If you are a music lover and also interested in visiting Greenland – perhaps try to plan your trip for end-September/start-October so you can catch the Akisuanerit Festival in Nuuk. Like the festival’s Facebook page to stay up to date with the latest news, and check out the Ultimate Guide to Nuuk to discover what else there is to see and do while you visit Greenland’s capital.

Discover more about Greenland

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Nuuk provides a complete list of festivals that take place throughout the year in Greenland’s capital. It also has loads of practical information on how to get to Nuuk, how to get around, where to stay, where to eat, and what to do once you arrive.

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences here on my blog or on my Greenland-specific blog at Guide to Greenland.

For more information about Greenland, the best websites are Guide to Greenland (which is also a one-stop-shop for many of the tours available), and Visit Greenland, the Government tourism site.

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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