World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Numamta Yup'ik Eskimo Singers and Dancers

GENRE: Traditional
First appearance in SF EDF: 1988

Founder and Artistic Director Chuna McIntyre, Yup’ik from Alaska, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area; the other dancers of Nunamta (“of Our Land”) Yup’ik Eskimo Dancers live in Alaska. To share their culture, the group has danced together for thirty years in many places around the world, including Siberia, England, New Zealand, South Korea, Australia, the Kennedy Center, and Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Chuna has assisted the Smithsonian Institution with their Yup’ik Eskimo collection, and he curated the Inuit-Eskimo permanent exhibit at the de Young Museum.


TITLE: The Shimmering Moon
DANCERS: Josephine Aloralrea, Tatiana Andrew, Agnes McIntyre, Chuna McIntyre
MUSICIANS: Vernon Chimegalrea (drum), John McIntyre (drum)

The dance is about light, and every element will tell you that. We are dancing to the sun and the moon and the stars.

A North American indigenous ensemble presents The Shimmering Moon. Chuna McIntyre, Yup’ik dancer and choreographer, speaks about his dance:

“In the Yup’ik world of the longest nights, the full moon is really noticed. In mid-winter, all of a sudden, she lights the world. There is nothing like the arctic moonlight. Everything in the world shimmers. It’s like a glimpse of heaven. So I thought to do a medley honoring the moon and her light. This dance is about Yup’ik heaven on the stage. There’s the audience, and we also have another audience: all our relatives who have gone to that light—we never forget them for one moment. The connection we have is the light, in the otherwise dark universe. We begin the dance in darkness. Drums keep time and the dancers sing an opening song. Some of the songs are over 500 years old.”

Chuna and his dancers have worked on the regalia for over a decade, garments with modern sparkling beads, white feathers, necklaces, and dance fans. It’s an ancient design for temperatures 60 degrees below zero, a regalia of light. He says, ”The elders say when you dance, dress up for the ancestors! As an emissary of the moon, your regalia will reflect the moon. When light is cast from the moon it ties us to the whole sense of ‘out there,’ almost like a conduit. Traditionally, dancers wear an elaborate outer parka, intermediate parka, and inner parka. They remove their outer parkas to show finery underneath, to say, ‘there is often light underneath, not always only what you actually see: it’s time to be unafraid to come into the light of Heaven.’ Heaven is where the ancestors live as celestial allies. We need their help. We wear white for light, snow, and our ancestral destination; black for the Night Spirit place and things we don’t understand; red for blood we share; and blue beads for the fleeting summer sky.”

The headpiece (worn by Yup’ik Ursuline Sister Josephine Aloralrea) shows rings of the universe, consciousness, and nighttime stars. The moon shines solemnly through her face, looking through her consciousness. A cruciform represents all animals, our earthly allies. Four tassels are for cardinal directions; three for Yup’ik understanding of the Trinity. An ancient Yup’ik saying is: And they shall know us who we are by our shimmering garments. And part of the song is:

Nighttime has come to me, darkness has come to me,
but the moon came to me and made me happy.
My people, my ancestors who look back to me,
everyone is in the moon and they are truly happy.

This is a dance that has not been presented publicly for over 200 years and we are honored to have this work shared with us.


Chuna McIntyreTITLE: I Take You on a Journey
SOLOIST: Chuna McIntyre
Vernon Chimegalrea

I take you on a journey, in the air, on the ground,
and in your mind.

Someone is singing to you and calls your name from the air,
from the ground, and in your mind.

Someone dances for you and moves gracefully from the air,
from the ground, in the deep recesses of your mind.

Chuna McIntyre is a Central Yup’ik Eskimo from the Bering Sea, Alaska. He performs I Take You on a Journey, a dance with movements from everyday life. Chuna wears a Yup’ik mask and traditional regalia, with handmade Yup’ik garments and dance accoutrement. His tambourine-like instrument is called “Cauyaq”, or “one that you face”, to describe the relationship between the dance and drum. Yup’ik masks help humans see through the eyes of the animals who dwell with us. Mask dances ask for well-being and gifts from nature—understanding that everything in the environment—even a speck of dust—has awareness.

Chuna McIntyre was born and raised in the village of Eek on Kuskokwim Bay. Yup’ik is the first language in his village, and they carry on the ancient traditions of fishing and hunting and gathering the berries and greens from the land. Chuna was raised by his grandmother, who lived to be 95 years old, in the village of Eek. She taught Chuna these ancient dances, songs, and stories, and he set them for stage. Through scholarly recording, and dancing for ceremony and theater, the Yup’ik keep their culture alive.

Additional support for this performance comes from the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

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