≈ 1 hour and 20 minutes · No intermission
Last updated: October 24, 2022
“Being silent so you can hear something beautiful”
– Aalaapi in Inuktitut
Aalaapi | ᐋᓛᐱ is a hybrid project, a creative blend of theatre and radio. On stage, two women from Nunavik (Nancy and Olivia) live their lives in front of our eyes; lives in which the radio is central and serves as a true guideline for their existence.
Through the radio, which sits as a centrepiece in their household and occupies a crucial place in Nordic communities, the sound of a documentary flows out for both us and them. We become immersed in the North through its soundscapes, its silences, and the voices of five young women from the Nunavik territory. Thus, the two women on stage listen as the documentary’s subjects speak about their experiences, and occasionally react to what they hear.
Audrey, Samantha, Louisa, Mélodie and Akinisie split their lives between the North and the South. Over an eight-month period, these young women have agreed to talk about their lives in a radio documentary, a piece sculpted through their own words and silences. Aalaapi | ᐋᓛᐱ is an echo of the North; of its past, but especially of its present, through the sensibilities of these five young friends.
Laurence Dauphinais and Marie-Laurence Rancourt have brought together a collective of multidisciplinary artists, both Inuit and non-Inuit, to create this unique show. Aalaapi | ᐋᓛᐱ foregrounds sound imagery and takes the viewer/listener into the heart of the lives of the young women in a format that reveals the power of their words, their stories and their potential. Together, Laurence and Marie-Laurence write radio that’s unpredictable, surprising and touching. The theatrical creation, performed by Nancy Saunders (Niap) and Olivia Ikey Duncan, engages in a dialogue with the documentary from which it originates, renewing the sound experience by combining it with other forms.
Aalaapi | ᐋᓛᐱ reflects the desire of the collective to position the piece in contrast to the often-conveyed images of the North, to open a door to a universe free of clichés and preconceived ideas. It’s an opportunity for exchange, both within the team and with the public. It’s an invitation to listen, as a means to better see. It’s a communion through bread and sound.
The Aalaapi | ᐋᓛᐱ project was originated by the Aalaapi Collective. The show having been created thanks to the significant contribution of every person involved, the name of the group aims to reflect the primary and essential aspect of this new work, namely, its collective character.
This interview was conducted by the Festival TransAmériques (FTA) on the occasion of the show’s presentation in May 2020.
Aalaapi features Inuit women presented for who they are, and not merely as representatives of their Inuit identity. Why is that important?
Nancy Saunders (Niap): We have to get beyond the image of the Inuit as stoic hunters and gatherers. They are also businesspeople, artists, social workers, single parents, modern people who travel.
I think we need to embrace both our traditional culture and modernity, to know our own history so that we can better understand our parents and ancestors, what they experienced, so that we can be proud of who we are and have an informed vision for the future.
The more there is a true reflection of modern Inuit, the less prejudice they will face. I am half Inuit and half Québécoise, and I experienced discrimination because I’m neither white enough nor Inuit enough. When I was a child, I lived with shame and hatred regarding my culture. Later on, I recognized its importance, and that’s what saved me.
A lot of workers come to the North with very little knowledge of our culture. It’s like a dance where no one knows the steps. It’s better to admit you know nothing about the Other, but are open and curious and willing to interact.
As an artist I want to build that bridge between my people and the outside world, to try to make people aware of the problems we face, and also to share what I’ve learned in order to encourage my people to move forward. Aalaapi is a good reflection of the North, but we must not lose sight of the fact that we have a lot of serious social problems in our communities. Aalaapi is an opportunity to open up the conversation.
Aalaapi began as a radio documentary. Why did you choose radio to tell this tale of young women and their experience of the North?
Laurence Dauphinais: Community radio plays an important and special role in the lives of the Inuit. It’s a social connector that allows anyone to send messages—right down to someone calling in because they’ve lost their house keys! This project talks about listening and silence, and audio connects with listeners in ways that an image does not. The medium of sound allows us to avoid a certain cognitive bias.
Marie-Laurence Rancourt: Radio is extraordinary. It records both voices and silences, thoughts as they take shape. A voice is revealing in that it has a layer just waiting to be unfurled, laid bare. Yes, the documentary is a portrayal of the North, but it goes far beyond that: it presents a powerful reflection of our times that extends beyond the northern context.
It’s a reflection on what it means to speak up and be heard. What comes through in the voices of the women when they speak is as important as what they say, which is part of the power of radio. There’s a lot of information in their hesitations, their doubts, their omissions of certain words.
Aalaapi invites the listener to be attentive. We have a habit, to my mind spurious, of thinking of radio as a medium of speech, but it’s also a medium conducive to listening.
I tried to keep quiet, to step aside, to pay attention. To me, every word in the documentary is precious. I have the impression that all the voices draw part of their strength from the inexpressible, which gives them depth.
Did the issue of the legitimacy of whites representing the North crop up?
Laurence Dauphinais: It was something we were constantly discussing, a demanding but necessary consideration. We always had to be sure that we were collaborating respectfully and as equals, that we adapted to others and they adapted to us.
It’s important for northern communities to reclaim ownership of traditional cultural forms of expression that have been forbidden or stolen from them. Power being concentrated in the south, I felt it was necessary that northern cultures be duly represented.
I wanted to work from a perspective of empathy, rather than remaining ignorant. All of us wanted to go beyond any sensationalist, stereotyped representations of the North.
We created a set design consisting of a house with a window, a house where two Inuit women live. That view provides limited access to certain aspects, like a metaphor for the work required to access a different culture. For example, when the actresses engage in throat singing in the house we can hear them, but we don’t see them. They are singing not for the performance, but for themselves.
The challenge was to create an encounter between the audience and the two women, one that favoured relaxation and openness.
The play allowed us to question contemporary Quebec theatre and Quebec society by integrating the reality of people who share a territory, but whose interests and baggage are completely different. The dominant French-language culture has been oppressive for some. It’s our duty to take responsibility for that state of affairs.
[The following excerpts are from the radio documentary that is broadcast throughout the play, effectively acting as the main character.]
Vastness of the Northern landscape.
In the radio studio, Putulik is hosting her show.
I have to talk…
ᑐᓴᐅᑎᒃᑫᔨᐅᓯᒻᒥᔪᖓ. ᐳᑐᓕᒃ ᐃᓕᓰᑦᑑᕗᖓ.
ᒫᓐᓇ, 12:09, ᐅᓐᓄᓴᒃᑯᑦ. ᐅᓪᓗᒥ-August 1, 2018- ᐱᖓᔪᐊᓂ.
I’ll be your host again today. My name is Putulik Ilisittuk …
The time now is nine minutes past twelve noon. It’s August first, twenty eighteen.
The young women’s voices overlap with the music and Putulik’s words.
Tusautik… is the radio, the place where you hear things.
The Inuktitut word for radio is tusautik.
When there are men who aren’t yet home from hunting, the radio stays on. Even at night.
The sound of the radio brings on the night, thick and full of echoes.
The five young women are still in the forest, in winter, in southern Quebec.
What is freedom?
Doing whatever you want.
Freedom is like being aware of yourself.
What do you think?
When someone takes care of my daughter.
That’s true, that’s a kind of freedom.
Akin, any kind of freedom …
I can’t think of anything …
I wanna be free out in the world. But no time … It’s no time for free.
Slow musical pulse of soft, deep bass notes.
The script is published by Atelier 10, in the “Pièces” (plays) collection.
Producer of sound documentaries
Magnéto is a creative organization dedicated to designing, producing and broadcasting radio podcasts. Co-founded in 2016 by Marie-Laurence Rancourt and Zoé Gagnon Paquin, it contributes to the recognition of a cinema for the ears in Quebec and throughout the Francophonie. Magnéto, which brings together a large number of authors and artists, creates documentaries, radio dramas, soundtracks, long interviews, portraits and more. Magnéto likes to engage listeners by making ideas, culture and stories resonate, while helping to renew writing for radio and the formats and subjects conveyed by that medium. Its work contributes to the recognition of radio art as a discipline in its own right which, while borrowing certain elements from literature, cinema and painting, has its own specificities and singularities.
Magnéto conceives, produces and broadcasts its own sound creation projects, inviting listeners to hear the world differently through a diversity of forms, subjects and aesthetics. Magnéto also collaborates with several partner organizations, companies and institutions for which it makes and distributes podcasts.
Executive producer of the show
Founded in February 2012 by Jérémie Boucher, Dany Boudreault and Maxime Carbonneau, La Messe Basse is dedicated to creations that explore new theatrical materials, thereby opening up conventional theatre practice in Canada and abroad.
Taking a queer approach, La Messe Basse relies on the interaction between theatre and different mediums to find new languages that redefine the boundaries of its work. A queer approach means resisting any fixed and essentialist definition of gender and society by including a plurality of points of view in the creative process. The company’s productions are aimed at a wide audience from all walks of life.
Olivia Ikey Duncan is a mixed Inuk from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik. She is an advocate for her people, an artist who combines traditional and contemporary elements of Inuit culture, and a mother of Inuk and French Canadian children. Olivia works mainly in the fields of reconciliation, education and Inuit self-determination in the 21st century. Her practice focuses on decolonization, identity, language, and forging new relationships to support reconciliation in Quebec and Canada. As a writer, she has worked with Niap, and her poetry anthology, Nuna Poems, won the Inuit writing category at Éditions Hannenorak
The play premiered at the Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui in Montréal from January 29 to February 16, 2019.
It was based on a documentary podcast produced by Magnéto between 2017 and 2019.