On Friday 13th and Saturday 14th October, Rosie Kay Dance Company will bring their acclaimed 5 Soldiers – The Body is the Frontline back to Birmingham for two performances. 5 Soldiers has been previously performed at the REP – but this time, interestingly, the show will be hosted by the 48 Signal Squadron Army Reserve Centre in Sparkbrook, as part of the REP’s autumn programme.
5 Soldiers is produced and performed by Rosie Kay Dance Company, a West Midlands based organisation headed by the eponymous Rosie Kay. Rosie Kay Dance Company was established in 2004 and has a number of productions in its repertoire, including The Wild Party, Supernova and MK Ultra – the latter recently toured the UK, which Charlotte Heap covered for Birmingham Review in March 2017. To read Helen Knott’s interview with Rosie Kay, ahead of the MK Ultra performance, click here.
5 Soldiers is production through contemporary dance, that focuses on the everyday life and challenges a soldier faces. The piece is split into three parts and represents the three major evolutionary stages that a person must take to become a soldier: the first depicts training, the second the camaraderie and relationship between the soldiers, and the third explores combat. In the course of preparing for the piece, Kay and her dancers spent time with a rifle battalion and this was an influence on the choreography itself.
5 Soldiers portrays the lives of individual soldiers from both a male and female perspective; four men and one woman depict the varying roles of three riflemen, one sergeant and one officer, alongside the challenges that an army career can incur. Interestingly Rosie Kay has chosen to focus on the human element of army life, rather than the mechanical and technological advances of urban warfare. This was a deliberate decision, according to Kay, who explained her approach in a 2015 interview with Sophie Neal at Redbrick:
‘It’s divided into three parts. The first demonstrates how repetitive training can be and how it continually pushes the body to the limits. The second shows the soldiers letting off steam and how their training has affected their relationships with each other. The final section is called ‘on the ground’ and this is what it’s like to be on patrol. The most dancing is in this section and it really does look like they are in combat.’
Using a tripartite narrative, the choreographer is able to focus on the importance of the soldier and the physicality and human strength within the armed forces. Whilst having an ensemble cast follow the same three key moments at the same time allows emphasis on the collective aspect of being a soldier.
Hopefully 5 Soldiers will further re-focus and humanise the depiction of war, perhaps moving away from the more long-held theatrical stereotypes of the army and armed forces. But Rosie Kay Dance Company must tread a fine line with 5 Soldiers – while the show depicts combat, the focus is on the subjective experience of the soldiers and the physicality of their bodies, with the REP’s promotional material stating the production ‘offers no moral judgment on war’.
The difficulty is that with an issue as charged as war, and the protagonists who feature in it from the front line, it’s hard not to at least solicit a viewpoint of some form – be it from the audience, or more subconsciously from the ensemble and company themselves.
Setting the performance at an army base brings this all the closer to home, and it’s hard not to think of all those fallen in battle and those that continue to serve. The further challenge for 5 Soldiers, and for Rosie Kay Dance Company, will be whether the production can focus on the subjective experience of a battalion of soldiers and offer no stance on war without being restrained by its neutrality.
The performances will take place on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th October at the 48 Signal Squadron Army Reserve Centre on Golden Hillock Road in Sparkbrook, within easy access of Small Heath train station and bus routes.
5 Soldiers – The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company
For more on Rosie Kay Dance Company, visit www.rosiekay.co.uk
For further details on the 48 Signal Squadron Army Reserve Centre (Golden Hillock Road, Sparkbrook, B11 2QG), visit www.army.mod.uk/signals/25765.aspx
For more from the Birmingham REP, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk