The audience files into this event like they would any other; there is the usual rustling of jackets, ‘Is this seat taken’s, and squeezing together to fill every seat in the sold-out show. However, as soon as the lights go down, it becomes clear that we are in for something unique, something genuine. The stage exudes warmth, set with rugs, wood panels, and homely furniture. It is as if storyteller Louise Profeit-LeBlanc has uprooted her living room, set it down in Edinburgh for the night, and invited us to share her hearth.
Nonetheless, coming originally from Yukon, a sparse, wild territory in the northern reaches of Canada, Profeit-LeBlanc has a rich background in storytelling. She grew up hearing and collecting traditional stories from elders so that she might share this sacred part of her culture. The performance begins with her laying the foundations of this tradition by lighting seven caribou hide “spirit balls”, each of which represent a teaching of the Yukon stories: respect, courage, truth, love, honesty, wisdom, and humility. Their soft glow and Profeit-LeBlanc’s lilting voice settle the audience; the room is silent save for her words. We could be on the outer edge of the Arctic Circle for all we know, hearing first-hand the stories that have shaped an entire people.
The rapt audience is taken on a journey of tribal myth. From the trials faced by a man who wishes to marry a daughter of the Sun Chief, to the traditions of small communities in the remote Yukon lands, to a grandmother who sings her grandson back to life after he is taken by a lake-dwelling beast, Profeit-LeBlanc moves elegantly through the tales. She spins images with the smallest gestures, joking occasionally, all the while interweaving the teachings represented by the seven spirit balls. There is a common thread of ancestry in her stories; the idea that some among us are descendants of the Sun Chief’s daughter, or of the rescued boy, and that these teachings resonate within us because of this fundamental connection.
With the audience fully under her spell, Profeit-LeBlanc gives a rare insight into her art, revealing that “oftentimes storytellers don’t know what story they’re going to tell”. In her capable company, however, we know that any tales told here are rooted in ancient tradition, passed down through generations of Yukon people. They are a reminder that we are all connected by heritage, and that we have a shared responsibility to build communities and move forward together. Her stories are a privilege to hear.
Scotland and Canada: Stories from the Yukon was performed on 23 October 2019 as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. You can find more details about the festival, and buy tickets for future events, here.
Image: Louise Profeit-LeBlanc