“My Eskimo dancing, that’s what I really wanted to bring out to the world. To see what’s going on in our Yu’pik culture.”
That’s what prompted Gary Upay’aq Beaver of Kasigluk to collaborate on a multi-media theatrical production that recently toured Alaska and off-Broadway in New York City.
ALAXSXA | ALASKA uses monologues and scenes to illustrate cross-cultural encounters in Alaska from an insider’s, outsider’s, and historical point of view. The production was featured in a recent episode of KNOM’s Story49.
The production is the collaboration of Beaver, artist and playwright Ryan Conarro, and puppeteer Justin Perkins. Says Beaver, “Some pieces were really hard… I had to make myself stronger. I keep praying. Us Yup’iks, we have faith, hope and love, which I didn’t really have. But now, with what I saw, my faith, my hope, my love, it’s a little more stronger, and it’s still going up.”
The aim of the show is to inspire reflection and conversation about people and how we interact with each other. The storytelling contrasts the different viewpoints using a blend of humorous and even tragic memories of cross-cultural encounters.
When the production premiered in Nome, Director of the Katirvik Cultural Center, Lisa Ellanna, facilitated talking circles after the show. She said the discussions about history were uncomfortable and filled with emotion. The show was “presented with so much art, beauty, song, understanding, and care. It nurtured the audience along the way… Alaska Native people know the weight of the story and how important it is to our cultures… you have to tell a story exactly how it was told to you, and then, you’re free to interpret” to find the meaning and relevance to the recipient’s current situation.
Says Beaver of his part in the production, “I just hope that I help somebody out there. I know I helped, not one, not two, but a lot more. They’ve already come up to me and told me after the show.”
Image at top: Gary Beaver performs a Yup’ik dance at the Nome Elementary School.