This year the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo is like going on a trip.
Now in its 40th year, it has more international acts than ever with a sword-flashing Jordanian honour guard, German aerial bicyclists, Russian folk dancers, Brazilian acrobats and a Singapore police force band.
The culture clash is fascinating as you go from kilted Scottish pipers to friendly, highly-skilled Kenyan acrobats building amazing, body pyramids.
This tattoo, running at about two and a half hours through Monday, realistically features war in two frightening or exciting scenes – depending on who you are. Everyone jumps at the gunfire.
It’s a serious underpinning as the Tattoo pauses to recognize men and women in the audience who’ve served their country. In terms of a highly simplified analysis of war, you feel that all the colour and joy of life expressed in the entertainment is what has been fought for.
It’s great to see such a celebration of culture in today’s world driven by dark forces of fear, hatred and exclusion incarnated by . . . . (I’m having a Trump-free week.)
The show looks back at women in service in a moving, well-staged segment with singers Cyndi Cain and Brenna Conrad. It also honours the end of the First World War 100 years ago this November and the Battle of the Atlantic
The Singapore Police Force Band also honours women – the Samsui women. Known for their distinctive red headgear, they came to Singapore from China between the 1920s and 1940s and worked as hard labourers in construction and other industries.
Unlike the Samsui women who rarely married, the male/female dynamic of the Circassian dancers is the sweet one of a courtship ritual. The men dance astoundingly on their knees as the women in exquisite costumes seem to hover in swift and graceful movements.
This troupe, The State Academic Ensemble of Folk Dance of Adygea, dates back to 1936 and is connected to the 19th century displacement of Circassians from their North Sea homes.
The Circassians fought unsuccessfully against the Russian Empire in the Russian-Circassian War, were exiled and deported and live in over 50 countries, including Jordan where they form the Royal Circassian Honour Guard that is performing at the Tattoo.
A highlight this year is Cape Breton singer Heather Rankin making her Tattoo debut in Tell My Ma, the lively, 19th century, folk song first recorded by the Rankin Family on their 1990 hit album Fare Thee Well Love.
Rankin, in a glittering black evening gown, gives the song all its salty fun in a vigourous performance with the Tattoo highland dance squad in glittering green – a nod to the Belfast City reference.
Also lending his rich voice to this show as a soloist is Marcel D’Entremont, a Merigomish classically-trained tenor who has performed with the Tattoo for several years.
I first went to the Tattoo almost 40 years ago – believe it or not! It’s become increasingly sophisticated as a smoothly-running show with clever, rapid changes as large bands start to march on in darkness while the spotlight hangs on another act like Canada’s 10-year-old Spanish flamenco guitar phenomenon Harry Knight.
Named for the 1600s, Dutch phrase “doe den tap toe” (“turn off the tap”), to get innkeepers to send soldiers back to the garrison, it’s now an institution for Nova Scotia with big showtime traffic jams and thrilled crowds giving standing ovations. This year it’s still fresh, actively crafted and artistically satisfying.