The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo is surprisingly moving this year.
Firstly, it’s been two years since the cast of thousands has flooded the Scotiabank Centre with its excellent, all-ages, entertainment package of heart-stopping circus acts – particularly good this year – and heart-stirring massed pipes and drums.
But there’s more to it. This year the Tattoo honours the No. 2 Construction Battalion ahead of the national apology by the Government of Canada in July 9 in Truro where it was headquartered in 1916.
The soldiers’ descendants march on stage in the battalion’s distinctive, plain khaki uniform as actors cheer and wave white handkerchiefs to make up for the lack of fanfare when the battalion returned quietly to Pier 21 in 1919.
The Hallelujah Praise Choir, singer Zamani and musician Sgt. Michael Maxwell perform Amazing Grace against old black and white photographs as Lindsay Ruck narrates, among others. Ruck’s grandfather, Calvin Ruck, first brought the forgotten battalion to light.
Also moving is the inclusion of the Ukrainian national anthem in the Tattoo finale. Given Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, war is very much in the mind this summer. Often with the Tattoo it seems to be in the past as acts from Germany and Canada, former enemies for two world wars, unite.
This year marks the return of crowd favourites the Canadian Arms Forces Obstacle Race and the Flying Grandpas who perform a trampoline and tumbling act in a comic Keystone cops story that hides the physicality and danger of the tricks.
The Quebec trio High Flyer RB3, never before at the tattoo, is literally heart-stopping as gymnast Ève Gagné bounces up in the air and flips and lands on a moving balance beam held by two men. There is no safety net or mat. People gasp.
It’s amazing how a large marching band can slip off stage and suddenly all 10,000 eyes are focussed on just one slim woman with two red silks that hang from the ceiling as Anastasia of Atlantic Cirque performs a rivetting and dangerous balletic act.
For Scottish sentimentalists (myself included) there are plenty of Scottish numbers with classics like “I’ll Take the High Road” with fine dancing by the Tattoo Highland Dancers and singing by Truro singer Julia Deuville.
Guest bands include the Jordanian Armed Forces Band, which includes some female players and is a very elegant, poised and sophisticated band, and the peppy, playful and excellent North American Brass Band Summer School Musicians.
Even the Beatles medley with singer PO2 Brad Davidge and the full choir/band treatment is emotionally moving. During Hey Jude people waves their arms and use their phone flashlights as crowds once lifted up cigarette lighters at rock concerts.
The Tattoo began in 1979 and was opened by the Queen Mother. This year’s Tattoo pays tribute to her daughter’s Platinum Jubilee celebrating her 70th year of reign and it opens with Eastern Eagle, a group of Mi’kmaw singers making their Tattoo debut.
With director Tom Peet, the Tattoo is a seamless machine with ever-revolving acts for two and a half hours including intermission. The lighting by Bob Stamp is very well done and key to the excitement of the show. Also on the creative team are principal director of Music: LCol (Ret’d) Gaetan Bouchard, costume designer Helena Marriott, visuals designer Chris Hayes and videographer/live stream producer Aaron Young.
All ticket information is at nstattoo.ca; the festival of free outdoors shows includes the Salute to the Ukraine and the amazing German Bicycle and is listed at Festival – Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo (nstattoo.ca). The Canada Day Parade is Friday, July 1, at 10:00 am in downtown Halifax.