Review: Rosie Kay Dance Company - 5 Soldiers - The Rifles Club

Performance: 6 & 7 May 2015
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 11 May 2015

Rosie Kay '5 Soldiers' The Rifles Officers’ Club. Photo: Bettina Strenske

Performance reviewed: 7 May

On election night, already charged with political questions, watching Rosie Kay’s reworked 5 Soldiers presented in the drill hall of The Rifles Officers’ Club, Mayfair, further demanded some intense reflection. Two uneasy bed-fellows – the army and a contemporary dance company – ironically made much more sense than any of the political parties.

Kay’s choreography takes on the physicality of rigorous military training. She investigates some difficult subjects such as sexism, homophobia and disability within the army; she focusses on the psychological damage of warfare, the massive impact on each individual body; the boredom and tension of endless ‘waiting’ during war and what the military really means to us, a general public.

As Kay pointed out in the post-show discussion, her new work is very different from the original 2010 version as it includes new material, younger dancers and a greater emphasis on the issues mentioned above. Four ordinary soldiers, dressed in army fatigues, take their orders from a convincingly nippy sergeant – Chester Hayes. Think about soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq: lighting effectively suggests the tight spaces of a training hall, an aircraft hanger, and a waiting room. In each of these spaces the dancers act out various physical and emotional states that seem very believable.

Choreographically, much of the movement is unadorned military drill – marching in formation, with precise actions, staccato stops and starts, high- knee jogging. Then there’s one to one fighting practice which morphs into athletic physical- theatre duets, stamina building exercises which show just how fit these dancers are. (All of them, including Kay, spent several weeks training with The Rifles). Kay manages to tread a fine balance between keeping the physicality real in military terms but also in creating poetic and imaginative dance. She juggles mechanical, hierarchical movement with the chaotic and out of control; pedestrian gestures (nose-picking, slouching, fiddling) with abstract, all of which illuminate the behaviour of soldiers in the front line.

What is particularly revealing for me is the interaction between the four men and one woman, especially when they are off-duty or waiting for action. Sexual tension is absent when the soldiers are on-duty but rife as soon as they relax. Shelley Eva Haden enjoys a quiet moment of pampering, stripping down to bra and top, dousing her hot, tired limbs with talc while the lads fool around, dancing and lip syncing to Katy Perry. Haden is problematically complicit in her seduction act as she oozes along the ground before the men who are soon drooling over her sensuous female body. Her release from the intense, de-sexualised experience of being a soldier is played out through a teasing, hyper- femininity. Kay’s portrayal of such gender role-play within the armed forces is probably not wrong. Nor how the men pick on each other or compete for attention.

The final war section is brilliantly played out through furtive team work, exchanged glances, nervous whispers, stillness then spurts of intense activity. It’s as vivid as BBC live footage of an under- cover assault on an invisible enemy. When soldier Oliver Russell is shot in the legs it’s not so much his awful writhing, suggestive of the collapse of the central nervous system that is devastating, or the looks of anguish and frustration as he struggles to walk on his knees but the impotent reaction of his colleagues. Initially supportive, they back- off from him stifled by their own emotional damage.

While Kay embraces the military by working with their members for 5 Soldiers, the work is not an endorsement of the army but an important move towards making it more transparent.

Tour details:

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

Photos: Bettina Strenske

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