Palace Theatre, Manchester; Tuesday 6th February, 2018
“When you first come out, you come out flying” – one of the many intriguing insights revealed by the cast of Dancing Bear, which is making its debut at the Palace as part of the Contact Theatre’s Queer Contact Festival 2018.
Dancing Bear starts as a musical cabaret but concludes rather mysteriously, having transformed at some point during the show into a thoughtful study of a little-known and seldom explored place: the mysterious confluence of gender, spirituality and sexuality. The seemingly unlikely presence of a strong sense of religious spirituality among the LGBT community is one of several truly educational moments in this show; the other notable revelation being that the community previously known by the abbreviation LGBT has now become LGBTQQIAAP, or LGBT+ for fans of abbreviated abbreviations.
Throughout the show – and in amongst several musical numbers that convey the efforts to adapt to the forces that shape their lives – each of the performers takes the limelight briefly in order to reveal their own personal story. These are stories of confusion, uncertainty, even cruelty at the hands of others – yet there seems to be resolution for everyone in the shape of the safety and comfort afforded by being part of an LGBT+ community that is now increasingly finding socio-political niches in which to not only exist but to thrive.
The actual Dancing Bear around whom the performance revolves starts the show as a comical character, doing his little jig in his forest home and seemingly having a good time. But as the show goes on he is literally transformed and it is clear that his transformation is forcing the need for him to “find himself” somehow.
This removal of the Dancing Bear’s outward appearance to reveal an altogether different inner core seems to be the theme of the show. And it gets repeated – in even more emphatic and literal fashion – by the almost brutal stripping down of the show’s most flamboyant and extravagant star: Divina De Campo. Divina starts as a classic drag queen who oozes character and finger-clicking confidence; yet when the outer visuals are literally removed the result is a stunning insight into the powerful forces that make Divina De Campo the on-stage presence that she is.
Dancing Bear feels like a new and fresh presentation of a new and fresh subject, a piece of theatre that gives insight into how identity is forged and how it can be shaped and adapted. This is a show that pushes aside the visual facade of the world of queer cabaret in order to reveal a complex landscape of emotionality hiding beneath.
|Visual pleasure||Ok but slightly lacking as a visual presentation, vibrant scenes of dancing and musical performance are alternated with some relatively static segments of script recital.||2|
|Auditory pleasure||High quality musical and singing performances from everyone involved. Impressive that all the songs are written and performed by members of the cast.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||Structurally, it felt a little bit incoherent as it jumped from one scene / song to the next. But it is a fresh and novel presentation of a subject rarely covered anywhere in any medium.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Excellent performances from everyone, incorporating a mix of musical expression as well as dance and spoken word / poetry.||4|
|Overall impact||The glitzy glamour of queer cabaret is decomposed to reveal a complex landscape of emotionality hiding beneath. Feels like a new and fresh presentation of a new and fresh subject.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|