Choreographer and Director: Rosie Kay
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Philosopher Michel Foucault suggested that the body of the modern soldier is ‘manipulated, shaped, trained’ so that it ‘obeys, responds, and becomes skilful’. The body of the dancer is under the same pressure, and 5 Soldiers, in association with Sadler’s Wells, and the British Army, cleverly explores the similarities between these two bodies.
The title of the piece may be 5 Soldiers, but in tonight’s show only four soldiers turned up for duty. Dancer Oliver Russell, after having been in pain in training, was diagnosed with a fracture in his leg, and the Rosie Kay Dance Company had no time to find a replacement. It is a credit to the whole team that Russell’s absence did not affect the passionate storytelling in this analysis of the life of a soldier.
The 60-minute show is broken down into four sections, with the first part concerned with drill and what better venue for this show than Yeomanry House in Bloomsbury, a drill hall for the British Army. This first section is physically demanding for the dancers as they are put through their paces, marching and training endlessly; there is no respite here and their short pauses for breath are also intricately choreographed. Even though the piece is set in recent times – the soldiers are preparing for a tour in Afghanistan – the pencil moustache of dancer Reece Causton evokes earlier wars.
The second part, Off Duty, describes the fun and the camaraderie of the three male soldiers as they get drunk and do karaoke. The one female soldier, Harriet Ellis, at times elegant and, at others, ferocious, finds it difficult to enter this brotherhood, and takes herself off to a corner of the stage. When the soldiers come home drunk, she has to fight off their advances. This show does not shy away from any issue: sexual assault, homoeroticism, and mental illness are all tackled.
‘On the Ground’, the third part, is set in the jungles of Afghanistan as the soldiers wait for combat and avoid the IEDs (improvised explosive devices), which the enemy has laid down. When fighting does start, the choreography does well to represent the terrible beauty of the melee. Choreographer and director Rosie Kay says that as it’s impossible to show real warfare on stage she has created a ‘physical landscape of chaos’. This chaos is punctuated with sudden moments of peace when each soldier takes it, in turn, to lay on their back with their legs curled up above them, a haunting, painterly image.
Duncan Anderson brings a determined fragility to his soldier when he is injured in the last, and shortest, section, Rehabilitation. Mike Gunning’s lighting design is particularly effective in this part as Anderson recovers from his injuries. This section is also the most ambiguous: should we see Anderson as victim or hero? Is the whole show a piece of anti-war propaganda or a recruitment drive for the armed forces? Perhaps it’s a complex mix of both, but as dancer Luke Bradshaw says, it’s important that we recognise soldiers as human beings and not as machines.
However, these four talented dancers are virtual machines, expending remarkable energy in this intense and brutal performance. This show hits the right parts: the mind, and the guts.
Runs until 9 September 2017 | Image: Brian Slater