Rosie Kay Dance Company – 5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the Frontline “incredibly inspiring and emotional”

Photo by Tim Cross

Set in a real drill hall, 5 SOLDIERS is an honest and moving choreographic exploration of the military world, brilliantly executed by the internationally renowned Rosie Kay Dance Company.

This show is an intense research on the consequences of war on soldiers’ body. It portrays effectively the physical and mental struggle soldiers have to face in their job, during their training and in the battlefield. Given that the body is the essential medium for a soldier, with this work Kay aims to understand the training and the process required to prepare a body for a conflict, and the consequent risks involved.

Rosie Kay conceived the idea for 5 SOLDIERS in 2007, after suffering from a serious knee injury followed by a visionary dream about her leg being blown off, and after seeing images on TV of young soldiers killed in Iraq.

These events led her to start investigating the way soldiers use their body, how they train to put their body at risk and what brings them to do that. She felt the urgency to understand the similarities in the work of the dancer and soldier in terms of physical and emotional aspects.

This intense research lasted for about 2 years and brought her close to the army world – she joined the 4th Battalion The Rifles in army training and battle exercises, and visited a rehabilitation centre where lots of soldiers returned from Afghanistan with amputation injuries and traumas.

The performance is structured in four parts. The opening section sees 4 dancers (unfortunately, due to an injury, Oliver Russell was unable to perform) in camouflage uniforms executing their drill routine of quick march and repetitive exercises dictated by a continuous rhythm and breathing pauses.

A stream of high intensity movements and complex patterns come together to convey that sense of discipline and concentration required to keep up with the training. It is easy to capture all the tension and exhaustion derived by these exercises.

Another transition sees the soldiers enjoying their time off. While men lark about and go wild with exhilarating dances, Harriet Ellis (the only female on stage) takes some time for herself indulging with her beauty routine, and later performing a striking solo dance, followed by a poetic duet with Luke Bradshaw.

It is a moment of intense humanity with a few displays of emotions – from laughs and love, to sexual tensions and emotional breakdown. The deliberate choice of having only one female dancer performing with all men serves as a mean to highlight the gap between genders in the army.

Towards the end, the scene gets more and more dramatic. The soldiers are on patrol, looking for the enemy, the tension is high, enhanced by the rumbling sound of the helicopters. It is mentally draining for the dancers and the audience – a very effective showcase of the physical and mental agony that sometimes soldiers have to go through. The battle ends with a seriously injured soldier; building a true connection with reality, this extremely moving scene demonstrates the negative impact conflicts may have on the body.

5 SOLDIERS is an incredibly inspiring and emotional piece of dance-theatre that successfully contributes to create emphatic engagement and connect the audience with the military world. An eye-opening show on the effects of conflicts seen from an intense human perspective; a confirmation of Kay’s interest in exploring the world and talking about it.

Reviewed by Francesca Marotto at Salder’s Wells on 8 September.