This video, adapted from material provided by the ECHO partners, shows how students in Anchorage, Alaska, develop a song and dance to tell about ...
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Narratives are stories that reflect aspects of the culture, history,and traditions of the people who create them. They are produced withan audience in mind, and can be written in text, depicted in images,spoken or sung, set to music, and/or presented in movement and dance. Forinstance, music videos can be a form of narrative.
In their video, Asveq-The Walrus Hunt, high school studentsin Anchorage, Alaska, recount a narrative through dance, music, andsong. With the help of musician and choreographer Steven Blanchett, aCentral Yup'ik man from Western Alaska, the students write an originalsong and choreograph a dance about a Native walrus hunt, an importantactivity for the St. Lawrence Yupik and Iñupiaq people. After thestudents learn the song and dance, they work with a video team to turntheir performance into a music video, which will allow them to share theirstory with a much larger audience beyond their Alaskan communities.
In this original dance, the male dancer plays the role of the walrushunter, and the female dancers act as a chorus to help him tell thestory. "The Walrus Hunt" song and dance also incorporates many Nativetraditions. Everyone wears traditional clothing; the women are in clothparkas, known as "atiklut," and the man has on the sea-going clothinghe needs to hunt walrus from a large open skin-covered boat called an"umiaq" or "angyapik." Male and female dancers also each have their owngestures. In Iñupiaq dance, it's typical for male dancers to stand and stomp one foot to the drum beat while female dancers bend their knees to the beat of the drum. Repetition is part of the dance: dances are repeated twice, first in a relaxed manner and then more emphatically.
Like any story, "The Walrus Hunt" has a character whose actions drivethe story forward, here the hunter himself. The story also has a setting;both a location and a time of year are presented in the video throughsuch elements as the clothing that the performers wear.
When a narrative is presented — whether in dance, words, pictures,or another way — there are also formal aspects of storytelling toconsider: how will the story be shaped? What will be the beginning,middle, and end? How will repetition be used? It is the role of thecreators to find the answers to these and other questions, and thencombine the elements to create their narrative. Working through this process,the students in the video have created a new story, while also keepingalive their Native traditions and dance forms: elements that have beenpart of their culture for generations.
- How do students in the video present their story? How does their heritage relate to the story they are telling?
- What are other ways that people can learn about their culture and heritage if they are displaced from it?
- What might be the role of the walrus in the traditional society? What cultural tradition could it represent? What purpose does the dance and music have for the students?
- Describe what you saw in the dance. What is its meaning to you?
Alaska Native Heritage Center
Video footage courtesy of Alaska Native Heritage Museum’s Asveq: The Walrus Hunt.