They stride in casually in their army fatigues, lugging voluminous backpacks: four young men and one woman; and for just a split second you think they may be part of the general staff.
We’re in an army drill hall in central London. The doormen and ushers are actual soldiers in uniform, and here’s the thing: at first sight those five young people we see coming onto the improvised stage look not like dancers but like ordinary squaddies, lounging around at the beginning of another day of army life.
As a choreographer Rosie Kay was used to the seeing the body as the primary instrument of dance; but in 5 Soldiers, which is subtitled The Body Is The Frontline, she adds another dimension: the body as the primary instrument of war. She asks us to see war, not in its complex geo-political context, but simply through the soldier’s body.
Created in partnership with the British Army, 5 Soldiers is the result of intensive research: the choreographer was allowed to participate in full battle exercises and visit a military rehabilitation centre.
Kay’s immersion into the military world gives this work mesmerising authenticity; and totally committed performances from her five outstanding dance-actors - Duncan Anderson, Luke Bradshaw, Reece Causton, Harriet Ellis and Oliver Russell - mean the audience connects and cares.
Part Two of 5 Soldiers is the final off-duty, let-your-hair-down outing before deployment. Here the movement is testosterone-fuelled, extravagantly boastful and ostensibly carefree, the men drinking, laughing, disco dancing, and mock-fighting like young bulls. More tellingly perhaps, for the one female soldier this is her last opportunity to revel in her femininity: he see her slowly and sensually taking off her masculine army uniform and clunky boots, and shaking her hair free from a severe bun.
When she joins the men in a sequence which at times acquires a dream-like quality, all their contradictory feelings towards women in the army come to the fore; as they handle her they’re by turns respectful, matey and playful, sexual and covetous.
But suddenly they're on a helicopter, flying towards deployment. From the aerial view of a mountainous country projected onto the stage’s black backdrop we deduce the country to be Afghanistan.
In Part Three they’re in the thick of combat; and here the tension is almost unbearable as the five, not longer men and woman, but simply five soldiers in harm’s way, try to discern where the attack is coming from, their bodies taut with alertness, their movements jerky, their fear palpable.
The final sequence, a kind of epilogue showing the real impact of war on a particular soldier’s body to the poignant lament of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, is gut-wrenching.
The British Army has been working towards a greater connection to all parts of society, using various means including the arts; and their objective is well served with Rosie Kay’s 5 Soldiers. But dance, too, emerges a winner from this work, which demonstrates like few others that good choreography can deal with pressing questions with eloquence and immediacy.
by Teresa Guerreiro
You can enjoy 5 Soldiers at home until 14 October 2017 on www.5soldiers.co.uk (commissioned by The Space)
|What||Rosie Kay Dance, 5 Soldiers Review|
|Where||Yeomanry House, Bloomsbury, Handel Street, London, WC1N 1NP | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Russell Square (underground)|
07 Sep 17 – 09 Sep 17, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour + Post-Show Talk
|Price||£20 (£15 concessions, inc members of the Armed Forces)|
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells website|