‘This is an unimaginable story about completely imaginable people.”
Bee (Paula Humby) and Bear (Clifford Kelly) are everyone’s grandparents. They argue adorably. They wear baggy cardigans. They answer Jeopardy clues aloud to the television.
What makes Bee and Bear’s story so unimaginable is that these completely imaginable people have had their lives spun into a sugary sweet confection. For its first half-hour, Ursa Major is a textbook fairy-tale romance, complete with coy banter, old-timey saloon music and twinkling fireflies hovering over the star-crossed lovers. Although their romance is steeped in nostalgia, Humby and Kelly manage to find truth in their heavily stylized interactions.
Ursa Major’s most distinctive and impressive feature is the integration of dance sequences into its main narrative. The understated movement pieces blend perfectly into the story, standing in for major life events and covering long stretches of time like montages in a movie. Ainsley Hillyard’s choreography silently captures the rhythm of Bee and Bear’s life together: the awkwardness of getting to know one another, learning how to synchronize with each other, becoming comfortable in a routine together and ultimately making love for the first time.
As Bee and Bear settle into life with one another, the dancing fades away, replaced by the comedy and drama of everyday life. It’s only when tragedy strikes that the intense choreography returns, standing in for a car accident that leaves Bear in a vegetative state for the next 10 years.
Straying from its rose-tinted beginnings, Ursa Major digs into deep questions, like whether it’s kind or cruel to let a loved one go and whether Bee is being selfless or selfish when she vows to take care of Bear for the rest of his unnaturally prolonged life. The show contrasts Bear’s dramatic infirmity with the everyday tragedy of Bea growing older and losing her memory, and Humby and Kelly are both wonderful as they deteriorate before our eyes.
Although its opening chapters feel a bit twee, Ursa Major proves by the end to be an unadorned exploration of what it means to be partners for life.
Until Sun, Feb 7
Directed by Beth Dart
ATB Financial Arts Barns,
$20 – $25
Part of the Chinook Series
Full schedule at chinookseries.ca