WHEN 5 Soldiers was performed in England, prior to its current Scottish tour, an army officer described the experience as “like doing a six-month tour of duty in one hour”. By the end of this powerful, thought-provoking show, you know exactly what he means.
Rosie Kay Dance Company - 5 Soldiers | Rating: ***** | Tramway, Glasgow
The result of years of research – both academic and lived – choreographer Rosie Kay has created a work which journeys deep into army life. By taking part in training exercises and mock battles, chatting with soldiers off-duty – then visiting those same men when they returned from war with life-altering injuries, Kay was given rare access to a world most of us know nothing about.
We start at the very beginning: training. Dressed in fatigues, the five dancers jog and march around the stage with precision timing. Friendships are built, but so too are resentments, when the hot house inevitably overheats with so much testosterone in one place and little chance for relief. When that relief finally comes, so too do the laughs.
It’s a welcome moment of levity, in an otherwise intense production, during which the four men bounce and strut to Katy Perry’s Firework.
Meanwhile, over in a corner, the lone female primps herself for a night out. Stripped of her uniform, and covered in powder, she is the image of femininity – and the men’s eyes say it all.
What follows next captures both the vulnerability and capacity for aggression which lives inside us all, but becomes heightened in a life and death situation.
Faced with the possibility of comfort (and sexual relief), the men respond in diverse ways. An uncomfortable hounding leads to a beautiful duet full of tenderness.
Then we’re off to battle, via an inspired helicopter scene where you can feel the fear and excitement build. The armed combat, and devastating injury which closes the show (both brilliantly conveyed by the dancers), not only keeps us riveted, but helps close the gap of understanding between the armed forces and the general public.
Perhaps the most telling moment however comes near the start, when a brief movement sums up what this show is trying to achieve.
A soldier mimes dancing with his partner, swooping round as if in a waltz – then morphs into a frontline combatant clutching a rifle.
In that moment, his body, brain and emotions have to alter beyond recognition – yet the man remains a human being, just like the rest of us.