Theatre Review: Five Soldiers // Rosie Kay Dance Company

Photo Credit: Rosie Kay Dance Company

The walls in my bedroom alternate between red and baby blue. They are in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. Especially the blue patches. Even a casual observer can discern areas where furniture and human bodies have rubbed against the paint, leaving it marred and scarred in some corners. Some of you might be wondering, why on earth is this man starting a review by discussing the state of his bedroom walls? Well, the truth is, I suspect the (admittedly one-sided) conversation that could be held regarding my bedroom walls would be a lot more interesting that anything I have to say about Five Soldiers.

I don’t mean to be flippant. Evidently, I seem to be against the tide of public opinion regarding this show- or at least, those that write for The Observer. I didn’t find this production to be a particularly stimulating or stunning examination of “war from a female perspective,” and I’m afraid I couldn’t help but wince a bit at Luke Jennings’ decision to cite Rosie Kay herself in declaring that: “For the dancer, as for the soldier, the body is a professional instrument, as highly-tuned as it is vulnerable.” This, to me, sounds like pseudo-intellectual abstraction taken to rather absurd lengths. I know people that have worked extremely hard to compete at dancing within my own family; admirable though these relations of mine are, I don’t think I could stretch my complimenting of their abilities to compare it to armed combat. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps we should send a battalion of pirouetting warriors to fight on the front lines. I wonder how well Kay’s comparison will hold up.

Photo Credit: Rosie Kay Dance Company

The Rosie Kay Dance Company’s website describes Five Soldiers as a “tour de force of the senses.” Well, my senses were decidedly underwhelmed. Part of the problem was the performance space. Whilst it was admittedly a clever decision on the part of the set, costume and video designer, Louis Price, to utilise a real British Army drill hall for the performance, it would be difficult to deny that it’s provides a somewhat empty space. Essentially, the stage serves as a blank slate for both the dancers and the audience, a sort of black box theatre space. It just reeks of GCSE Drama, in my opinion, and all of the blaring music and shifts in lighting couldn’t shake this impression from my mind.

The objective of Five Soldiers, according to Rosie Kay herself, was to to focus on the “humanity” of soldiers involved in combat in order to create a “visceral, empathic connection to an audience.” In my opinion, the show is unsuccessful in its aim to generate this empathic connection between audience and soldier- or, to be be accurate, between myself and the dancers. The show is just too abstract, too devoid of narrative, too reluctant to demonstrate any real personalities to the titular five soldiers on the stage that it is impossible to really be moved by their performance. The soldiers themselves can be loosely defined as: the female one, the officer (I think?), and oh, those two are the immature soldiers.

Photo Credit: Rosie Kay Dance Company

The closest thing to a “visceral” and “empathic” connect that this show was able to stimulate within me was the occasional impressed nod in response to some of the more challenging dance sequences. Yet even the dancing, impressive though it admittedly is, the rather brutal and unnerving sequence wherein the aforementioned “female soldier” (portrayed rather well by Harriet Ellis) is pursued by her male comrades, who alternate between being struck with awe and degenerating into explicitly predatory intimidation, as they encircle and entrap the young woman. Yes, this was a very decent sequence within the piece, although, Luke Jennings does lay it on a bit thick in his review. It was a well-choreographed sequence, and I would be remiss if I didn’t offer my congratulations to Rosie Kay herself, who worked as the director and choreographer for Five Soldiers, but I was not left quite as awestruck by the sequence. Indeed, whilst we are speaking about the choreography, I must confess that the first ten minutes or so of the piece are a tad lacklustre. Five dancers strutting up and down a stage over and over isn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff.

I wasn’t left enraptured by Rosie Kay’s Five Soldiers. It has some strong moments, and Harriet Ellis, Duncan Anderson, Luke Bradshaw, Reece Causton and Sean Marcs are a very talented collection of dancers. As the sweat dripped from their taut faces, as their bodies twisted themselves into ever more impressive shapes, I found myself being drawn further and further into their performance- just not as much as I wanted to be.

Words by Rhys Clarke.

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