Review: Bears (Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts/Punctuate!)

Playing at the Theatre Centre in Toronto, Bears explores our environmental impact

Matthew MacKenzie’s Bears, presented by Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts and Punctuate! (in association with Native Earth Performing Arts) and currently playing at The Theatre Centre, is a rich and beguiling theatrical experience. 

There’s been an accident on the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and Floyd is on the run from the RCMP. As he travels cross country, following the path of the pipeline, he has whimsical interactions with a plethora of wildlife and recalls formative experiences from his childhood. He shares with us the advice his mother passed on before she died, insightful little kernels that helped him to survive growing up native in a world that seemed intent on destroying his spirit.

As Floyd, Sheldon Elter is a charismatic, thrilling presence. He narrowly evades capture by the authorities while these local creatures help him along the way. He shares his experiences with various animals and highlights the particular charms of each.

Though he loves all creatures, he has a particular affinity for grizzly bears. It is this deep, visceral connection to grizzlies that begins to alter his own physical presence. And Elter conveys this subtle, sensual transformation expertly.

There is a chorus of dancers that portray this wildlife. It is great fun to watch them sweep him up into the writhing, fluttering mass of flora and fauna they represent.

Monica Dottor’s choreography is intuitive, sensual, deeply poignant and very funny. She seems aware that dance bits are, potentially, sort of goofy; she incorporates this into the movement, openly acknowledging the inherent silliness without ever poking fun at the content itself.

And T Erin Gruber’s set, for all its simplicity, is a wondrous, pulsing, hypnotic environment. With just hung fabric that catches the light of colourful projections, the effect immerses you fully in the textures and vibrant images of MacKenzie’s lyrical text.

Steeped in aboriginal mythos, the story passionately wears its environmental and humanitarian concerns on its sleeve. They are concerns I share. There is, however, an aspect to the ideology I’m not sure I can completely buy into. The play very harshly condemns industrialized progress for destructive disregard for the natural world. We have certainly not been as responsible or compassionate with our progress as we should be, but it is difficult for me to accept the idea that nature is perfectly balanced and inherently peaceful. Humanity—and the ambition and greed that has driven so much of our plundering—is very much a product of nature.

And perhaps that is the what makes this show so enriching. For those who care to unpack their own relationship to natural world and the industries that endanger it, the play encourages you to seek out ways to reconcile respect for our planet with the realities of a modern, urban lifestyle.

Bears is a thoroughly compelling story, very clear in its message, and full of magic.


  • Bears plays until January 27, 2018 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
  • All shows are at 8:00 pm. (No show on Sunday, January 21)
  • Tickets are $25, Student & Seniors tickets are $17
  • Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 416.538.0988

Photo featuring Sheldon Elter, with (left to right) Lara Ebata, Gianna Vacirca, Skye Demas, Alida Kendell, Zoe Glassman, Kendra Shorter, Rebecca Sadowski by Alexis McKeown