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Núna (now) will be back next spring for a fifth year after wrapping up a successful fourth edition of the Canada-Iceland Arts Festival last weekend.


That was the confident prediction of Arne MacPherson and Tristin Tergesen, members of the Núna organizing committee which staged a series of music, theatre and art events in Winnipeg and the Interlake during the first four weekends in May.


“We had the best ever attendance of 2,000 to 3,000 people this year,” MacPherson said following a performance of the play “Humanimal” in Gimli. “The festival will happen again in 2011.”


Núna strengthened cultural ties between Canada and Iceland by featuring Manitoba and Icelandic performers in shows in Winnipeg, Gimli and Riverton. The Gimli events wrapped last Saturday and Sunday with the presentation of three plays and a lecture by Laurie K. Bertram, a University of Toronto PhD. candidate who outlined the importance of vínarterta dessert cake and coffee to Canadian Icelanders.


There was a good crowd on-hand when Reykjavík’s “Me and My Friends” theatre company presented “Humanimal” Saturday night in the Johnson Hall of the Waterfront Centre. The cast of half-a-dozen Icelandic actors entertained the audience with a frisky, light and playful look at human foibles.


“The Icelandic performers often mention how well they are treated here,” Tergesen said. “Their experience has been positive and they all want to come to Manitoba.”


Opening the evening before “Humanimal” was “Second Vision of Love”, a short dramatic work by prominent Icelandic writer Ingibjorg Magnadottir. The Icelanders filled out the cast with “locals” such as Helga Malis and Svava Simundsson, of the Gimli Theatre Association, who partnered in a dance with MacPherson, one of Winnipeg’s leading actors.


The third play was “The Sound of Your Eyes Closing”, a bleak horror thriller set in the early days of the Manitoba Icelandic settlement.


Author Stephen Furmaniuk directed a cast of three in this piece performed Sunday afternoon at the A-Spire Theatre. One of the actors was Brenda McLean, a Geysir native, who returned to the Interlake after making a name for herself in Winnipeg theatre circles.


She is particularly associated with Theatre Incarnate and a Winnipeg Fringe Festival show where she portrayed Dorothy Parker, the famous U.S. humourist of the 1930s.


“This was the first time that my family had seen me act,” McLean said after her Gimli performance.


Bertram, meanwhile, had a busy Saturday, performing in “Second Vision of Love” after giving her well-received lecture Saturday afternoon in Lady of the Lake Theatre. Originally from Winnipeg and Icelandic on her mother’s side of the family, she said during her lecture that vínarterta and coffee have long been cultural symbols of the Icelandic-Canadian community.


“These are two pillars that are edible,” she added. “Some have said it is identity by way of digestion.”


Bertram said vínarterta and coffee were often consumed in large quantities when leading members of Winnipeg’s Icelandic community met in a Sargent Ave. cafe to discuss the issues of the 1920s and 1930s. One of them was Charlie Thorson, a political cartoonist turned animator who is reputed to have later developed the “Snow White” character when he worked for Walt Disney in Los Angeles. Thorson apparently modelled the character on one of the cafe’s waitresses, meaning perhaps that Snow White is Icelandic.


Bertram also said Icelandic settlers clung to their traditional way of making coffee with tea bags even though many of them became Anglophiles. “They changed their names, language and clothes, but not their coffee,” she said. “That’s where they drew the line.”


According to Bertram, vínarterta gained an external following with the public after the Second War. “Phobia against immigrants was replaced by rejection of racism after the war,” she said.


Her lecture reflected the diversity of the Núna four-weekend program which ranged from theatre and art to music performances by FM Belfast, Olöf Arnolds, Christine Fellows and Old Folks Home.


Funding for the festival came from a number of sponsors, including the Government of Iceland, Icelandair and Winnipeg companies such as Indus Automation Inc. and Shelter Canadian Properties.


“What we can do every year depends on funding,” MacPherson said. “We haven’t received anything from Canadian governments, but now that we have a track record, I think we may apply to their arts granting bodies.”




Courtesy of the Interlake Spectator

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