The Tattoo: See it at least once

French motorcycle team, bagpipe bands, in the Tattoo finale

“Plain AWESOME, A-W-E-S-O-M-E PERIOD.”

That was my 11-year-old’s assessment of the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo which he saw for the first time on Friday.

“What is it?” he kept asking before we went. “It’s … a show,” I said, inadequately.

It’s hard to describe the Tattoo; if you haven’t seen it, I’ll refer you to its own website, which says it is “the world’s largest indoor show…. featuring¬†over 2,000 world-class Canadian and international military and civilian performers … a fast-paced, two-and-a-half hour family show featuring music, dance, acrobatics, drama and comedy in a number of innovative acts.”

Bands to the rafters and the choir during the finale

Originally modeled on the Edinburgh Tattoo in Scotland, the Nova Scotia Tattoo was first staged in 1979 and featured primarily military acts.

Over the years, many civilian acts have been added, including guest performers from all over the world.

In common with the military marching bands and demonstrations of physical prowess, virtually all the acts involved precision teamwork.

Estonian roller skaters pose for photos after the show

We saw a fabulous precision roller skating team from Estonia, the French Guarde Républicaine motorcycle ballet, a German gym wheel team, and of course, Scottish Highland Dancers from Nova Scotia and from Australia. The latter group mixed the traditional strict forms of Highland Dance with tribal rhythms and modern innovations, which I found intriguing, having grown up partly in Antigonish where many kids took Highland Dance lessons.

The highest level of millisecond exactness was displayed by an all-female New Zealand drill team.

Talentholdet's innovative rope skipping

The loosest group was the Danish gymnastic troupe Talentholdet whose playful exuberance contrasted refreshingly with the strict discipline of the other acts while performing jaw-dropping feats of tumbling.

Even the tightest military bands had their comic routines to keep us entertained.

Musically, it was impressive that the many brass bands, the bagpipe bands, the choir and the soloists, spread across the width of the Metro Centre, could play in ensemble (almost all the time) – another testament to discipline and talent. Quite the sound!

Notably most of the civilian performers were female – dance troupes in particular, and while there were many women in the military bands, you had to look closely to distinguish them in their uniforms.

The show has a strong vein of patriotism and support for the troops, in their current mission of training the Afghan army now that Canada’s combat role has ended. Included in the honours are police, firefighters, emergency medical services and other first responders who “serve and protect”.

Altogether, the Tattoo is a huge community effort supported by many volunteers. The audience contained people from every province in Canada and many from the USA.

It’s a show that just about everyone should experience at least once.

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