Ruska Ensemble’s Arctic Trilogy

Project Spotlight: A Finnish performing arts organization collaborates with performers across the circumpolar North in a trilogy on Arctic identity, climate and culture. 

Collaboration circumpolaire Climat Activisme
A photograph of Sámi dancer Auri Ahola, shown from the shoulders up, staring into the camera. She wears a white shawl and holds a red hat over her shoulder. Behind her is a landscape with fields, trees, and a cloudy sky.

Ruska Ensemble is a Finnish performing arts group founded in 2010. The group aims to create theatre that breaks walls between different fields of art, brings people together and takes inspiration from  individual people as well as from communities. Therefore, it wants to create a platform where Indigenous people from the circumpolar Arctic are brought together and everyone has a chance to speak their mind in their own language. The group creates cross-artistic theatre that brings people together.

Arctic Trilogy

The Finnish National Theatre and the Ruska Ensemble are collaborating in a project to create a trilogy of performances dealing with Nordic issues. The trilogy establishes an internationally diverse artistic team, examining our common roots in the Arctic and exploring who we once were. Ruska Ensemble’s Arctic Trilogy gives a worldwide stage to the cultures of the North and brings out concerns about the future of the Arctic environment.

The group is concerned about the ecological and cultural future of the Arctic region. The aim is to strengthen our identities and to find alternative ways to approach and perceive the world. The focus is on the future of the Arctic people and their Northern environment.

Ruska Ensemble’s first production was a collaboration with Kokkola City Theatre titled The Last Morning Star (2011). The first part of a trilogy handling Arctic matters, Áillohaš—The Son of the Sun premiered at The Finnish National Theatre in 2014. It was a collaboration with the Finnish National Theatre and the Norwegian Beaivváš Sámi Našunálateáhter. The second part of the trilogy, Arctic Odyssey premiered at The Finnish National Theatre in 2017. It was a collaboration between the Finnish National Theatre and the Greenlandic National Theatre, Nunatta Isiginnaartitsisarfia. The third part of the trilogy will see daylight in 2023.

Some of Ruska Ensemble’s recent projects include:

Áillohaš—Son of the sun

In the Far North of Finland, a sensitive, dreamy young boy is the son of a reindeer herdsman within the Sámi community. When the time comes for him to undergo his community’s traditional coming-of-age ritual, he refuses to stab a young doe to death. The young boy’s failure to fulfil this masculine rite of passage stems from his deep connection to nature: he enjoys wandering through the tundra and singing with the birds. His activities are frowned upon by the local population. Even his relatives begin to wonder if he’ll ever be a real man. However, he has a mission. This mission takes him far from his native landscape out into the world, where he becomes known by the name of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää. Caught between local prejudice and the national mainstream, this determined young boy grows into a groundbreaking literary and artistic figure.

The play paints the portrait of a self-doubting, soul-searching artist, who discovered both the joy of art and the bitterness of fame. A powerful, beautifully poetic study of one man’s destiny, the production also tells the tale of the Sámi people, their art and struggle for survival.  The tale expresses a yearning for beauty and purity in a world blindly propelled towards ecological disaster.

Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (Áillohaš in the Sámi language) (1943-2001) was a Sámi artist and one of the best known promoters of Sámi art and culture both in Finland and abroad. In some respects,  Japan was his other home. He spent lots of time there and was strongly influenced by Japanese culture, where his art is also quite well known. Valkeapää was multi-talented, achieving a career as a writer, musician and visual artist. One of his most widely read works is The Sun, my Father (Beaivi, áhcázan), for which he received the Nordic Council Literary Prize in 1991.

Kalaaleq performer Connie Kristofferson wears a black and blue pant-suit. She stands knee-deep in Arctic waters with a mountain behind her, and looks directly toward the camera.
Performer Connie Kristoffersen in Ruska Ensemble, Arktinen Odysseia (Arctic Odyssey) (2017). PHOTO: LARS ROSING.

Arctic Odyssey

Arctic Odyssey is the second part of the Arctic Trilogy that the Finnish National Theatre presented from Ruska Ensemble. It is an exploration of the lives of northern people who open up their hearts to the world.

It offers a unique journey through the landscapes of Greenland’s ice sheet, Siberia’s taiga and the northern fjelds inhabited by the Sámi people.

Who are we, inhabitants of the North? What does the world look like from various sides of the Arctic? How do we approach the future and its challenges? And above all: what do the northern peoples from the Alaskan shores to the Kamchatka peninsula have in common?

On stage, Chukchi myths mix with uaajeerneq (Greenlandic Inuit mask dance), Arctic songs with modern Sámi poetry, cross-border artists with one another, and the performers with the audience. Young artists from different parts of the Far North recount their experiences, memories and reflections. The show is a cross between theatrical playfulness and contemporary ritual. The public is welcome to join in.

Arctic Odyssey brings many art forms together. Authentic visual and audio material create a setting for the performance. Stories, songs, myths and body language meet with theatre arts, creating something new and unexpected.

A photograph of Sámi dancer Auri Ahola, shown from the shoulders up, staring into the camera. She wears a white shawl and holds a red hat over her shoulder. Behind her is a landscape with fields, trees, and a cloudy sky.
Dancer Auri Ahola in Ruska Ensemble, Donna Quixote, to be performed in The Finnish National Theatre in 2023. PHOTO: JARKKO LAHTI.

Donna Quixote

The last part of the Arctic Trilogy is scheduled to premiere at The Finnish National Theatre and at Nunatta Isiginnaartitsisarfia—The National Theatre of Greenland. Donna Quixote is a big stage production about hope, idealism and activism. Similar to preceding parts, the third part seeks to establish an internationally diverse artistic team and find new ways of collaborating throughout the Arctic region and other Indigenous nations.The Donna Quixote production was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and the rescheduled premiere is planned for 2023.

This story is part of the Finland Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.