Review: Rosie Kay Dance Company in 5 Soldiers at The Place

Performance: 14 May 2011
Reviewed by Katie Fish - Wednesday 18 May 2011

Rosie Kay Dance Company '5 SOLDIERS' 20-21 May, The Rifles Club Drill Hall

Although they may seem somewhat disparate in today’s culture, dance and the military share a long history. As Wayne McGregor, [who’s most recent work Live Fire Exercise premiered at the Royal Opera House last Friday], explained to Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, the connections date back from the writings of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio which inspired architectural and military innovations and described the Vitruvian Man (later depicted by Leondaro de Vinci), which was the source of the five basic ballet positions.

Rosie Kay pre-empted McGregor with 5 Soldiers – The Body is the Frontline, a dance work that viscerally illustrates the common mental and physical endurance that is second nature to both militant and dancer. There is also similarity in the monotony of the drills, which like the ballet barre, prepare the body to respond to the extremities and traumas put upon it.

The five performers move as a close-knit body, efficient, precise, mechanical. The body is not just the instrument, it is also the machine. Directional changes are razor-sharp, torsos are arrow-straight and eyes fixed directly ahead. In the midst of this are individual characters, living and breathing the same air and getting through the dire straits with a pinch of camaraderie, a dollop of bravado and a barrel-full of empathy.

The practice of the live fire exercise (LFX) is evoked in a scene where the dancers are called randomly by drill sergeant Michael Spencely to collapse dead on the spot, trusting the others to catch their limply falling frame. Later they stand front facing, an arm suddenly coming to smack them in the chest, propelling them backwards before the stand ready to receive the next hit. Another scene has them jump up to hit the ground, pivot on their shoulder and regain their stance, coming up to standing only to go back down.

In a break from the relentless rehearsing of attack and defence, relief comes in the form of Black Eyed Peas’ I’ve Got A Feeling, which sees the four men shake off their tensions in an eruption of energy and pure abandon that only music – the great equaliser – allows. Meanwhile the lone female – compellingly portrayed by Tilly Webber – indulges in a brief moment of pampering, dusting herself in powder and then rolling around like an unsaddled pony. Out of her boots she moves with deliberate poise, alluring the men as she flirts out of their grasp; her power is in her singularity.

Visual and sound artists David Cotterrell and Annie Mahtani have collaborated closely to create a dry, sparse environment, with unforgiving harsh lighting and an almost palpable acousmatic score, permeated with sounds of the desert and of combat.

5 Soldiers premiered in April 2010 and has since toured nationally to critical acclaim. It is perhaps though the praise from former and current military personnel and their families that resonates most loudly for Kay and her collaborative team so I am going to sum up with this audience member’s quote: “I found the performance deeply moving, relevant and so representative of how soldiers are and how they cope with the contrasting aspects of their lives… But through it shines the in extinguishable light of the British soldier’s guts, determination and irrepressible sense of humour”.

An interactive edited version of 5 Soldiers can be viewed online at
Remaining tour dates in Hertford & Birmingham

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