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Bears: a blunt message beautifully and powerfully delivered - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto

Bears: a blunt message beautifully and powerfully delivered
23 January 2018

by Drew Rowsome
- Photos by Alexis McKeown

A visual and aural feast, Bears mashes a Joseph Campbell quest with Indigenous mythology and an adventure serial plot structure while adding a heavy dose of ecological warnings. The style is as eclectic with storytelling, dance, theatre and performance art all utilized to keep the fast-paced plot on track and the mystical metaphors grounded. The result of mixing so many styles and forms to illustrate one specific theme, is to create a production that is impossible to look away from, and that gains in power and clarity as it builds to a shattering climax.

Floyd, a clean-up expert for the western Canada oil industry, is involved in an "accident" that results in his fleeing from the RCMP. On the run through the Rockies to the Pacific, he interacts with the local flora and fauna, revisits his past with his protective mother Christina Sokaymoh Frederick), and, due to his close identification with grizzly bears, either transforms, or believes he transforms, into a bear.

The text by Matthew MacKenzie is heavy-handed and studded with jarring metaphors that aslam mythology and nature against modern terms and technology. A glacier is described with a Star Trek metaphor, the stars are an "HD Plasma screen," and variations on the word "fuck" are used with frequency and anger. He also (the resemblance to an old movie serial or Indiana Jones) relies on coincidence to pull Floyd out of frequent tight spots. The result, when blended with the dance and stylization as directed by MacKenzie, is oddly seductive and unsettling but never, not for a second, less than compelling.

Bears' cast also contributes immeasurably. Sheldon Elter as Floyd has a strong presence and a resonant voice so that the storytelling is lilting and solid. Not only could one listen to him for hours on end, but he also moves with a controlled grace and though he mocks his dance moves, they are graceful and tight: very bear-like. If so inclined, he would be very welcome at any more overtly sexual bear event. He is surrounded by eight dancers who transform from bears to chickadees, bees, fairies, flowers, salmon, ghosts and, in the most intense moment, from a comic chorus line of RCMP officers on horseback, into eagles trapped in effluent. They not only shapeshift species but extreme emotional spectrums.

The eight move as an ensemble - though one can't help but notice local Lara Abata from circus troupe Femmes du Feu who is only in the Toronto production of this cross-country tour - tightly choreographed by Monica Dottor (Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata) on a clever set design by T Erin Gruber. Gianna Vacirca gets a moment to shine, in full grizzly mode, in an erotic pas de deux with Elter. She is a charming ursine coquette. The score composed by Noor Dean Musani is determinedly electronic contemporary and beat heavy. And occasionally witty, the bees dancing and buzzing about while shouting "Work," were hilarious. And that is the best thing about Bears: while the subject matter is heavy - and you will feel guilt, anger and discover an insistent urge to protest any pipeline and the oil sands - there are many, many laughs and an extraordinary beauty that reminds that the human race, when not being destructive, is capable of magnificence.

Bears continues until Sat, Jan 27 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St W. theatrecentre.org

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