Dance review: Rosie Kay, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

For this solo performance at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, Rosie Kay had the stage presence of a 40-strong corps de ballet, writes Kelly Apter
Rosie Kay PIC: Brian SlaterRosie Kay PIC: Brian Slater
Rosie Kay PIC: Brian Slater

Rosie Kay, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ****

As we took our seats for the first live dance show at the Festival Theatre since early 2020, there was a palpable sense of gratitude to be back. It’s a space that has been filled by dance companies with huge numbers, but tonight it belonged to one woman – Rosie Kay. At the age of 45, over 20 years since performing her last solo, she took to the stage alone and occupied it as fully as a 40-strong corps de ballet.

Kay choreographed the 2018 Commonwealth Games Handover Ceremony and the glorious dance routines in Sunshine On Leith. Her Army-inspired work 5 Soldiers has toured the world, winning multiple awards.

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By comparison, Absolute Solo II is tiny. The kind of show you’d see tucked away in a small studio space. So how wonderful to find this empowering testament to the female body given the status it deserves.

Opening with Artemis Clown, a 15-minute piece from 2018, Kay demonstrated the still firm grasp she has on her technique – contemporary, underpinned by a balletic grace. A punchy ten-minute clip from her first solo show followed, filmed at the 1999 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Then it was time to join Kay on the deeply affecting, autobiographical journey that is Adult Female Dancer. A new piece fuelled by vulnerable self-disclosure, yet with an everywoman quality to it.

Through a recorded voiceover, Kay explains how she danced before she could talk. Arriving 13 months after her brother’s death, she was “born into grief” and “danced to heal the pain.”

We hear the catalogue of injuries she has sustained during her career, the journey her body has been on from early puberty to sexual assault, and how a difficult birth nearly killed both Kay and her son.

Yet there is also the pure, unfettered joy of dancing – and it’s this that Kay leaves us with.

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