The Rifles Officers’ Club, London, UK; May, 2015

Stuart Sweeney

Rosie Kay Dance Company in 5 Soldiers, The Body is the Frontline.  Photo Tim Cross 2

Rosie Kay Dance Company in 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline.
Photo Tim Cross

The majority of art works tackling the subject of war focus on the impact on civilians as well as the role of the soldiers. The most famous example is probably The Green Table, by Kurt Jooss, where we see the heroism and death of the soldiers and patriots, but also the impact on civilians, brought about by callous politicians and corrupt businessmen, and the ever-present figure of Death.

Rosie Kay proposes in a programme essay that the public’s failure to prevent our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has led to a disconnect with the military and the sacrifices they make. Thus, she chose to focus on the impact of training and action on the soldiers alone, experiencing for herself the rigours of training and the impact of physical and psychological injury on combatants.

5 Soldiers, an examination of the training and combat experiences of a small group of fighters, held its audience in thrall for an hour. We initially see the three male and one female recruit with an NCO, scattered around the stage – waiting, bored, adjusting gear, horsing around, limbering up. Summoned to order, in perfect synchronisation they execute rapid drill movements skirting the edge of the stage and then in the centre – people transformed into a fascinating machine.

Off duty we see them getting ready, exchanging macho bravado at a disco eventually turning into rough house antics. In contrast the lone woman powders her body and performs advanced callisthenics to the men’s wonderment. The NCO seeks an involvement with her to no avail. One of the recruits has more success, but the relationship falls apart perhaps because of the pressures of the constrained environment.

The final section starts with a helicopter ride over a desert landscape followed by a parachute jump. The five perform in-flight manoeuvres including a circle with linked hands, which looks good but stretches credibility in a war zone and doesn’t work as an imagined scenario – surely they would be thinking of the landing and what awaits them?

osie Kay Dance Company in 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline.  Photo Tim Cross

5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline.
Photo Tim Cross

Edgy scenes advancing through a hostile environment follow and eventually they are in battle, where one stands out spinning like a whirling Dervish and is wounded. With his legs strapped up to simulate the loss of both lower limbs, he enters a nightmare world where the physical nature of his life is upended by the devastating impact on his identity as well as his body. His colleagues do their best to help, but eventually leave him to squirm in agony, as they return to waiting around the stage for the next exercise or battle.

The dancers, Duncan Anderson, Sean Marcs, Oliver Russell, Chester Hayes and Shelley Eva Haden bring Rosie Kay’s half real, half imagined world to vivid life and develop their own personalities. Kay’s movement is varied and visceral. About half the performances in the current tour are set in military environments: barracks, clubs and camps as well as mainstream venues. Clearly the portrayal is sympathetic and appreciated by those working in the armed services as well as conventional dance audiences.