Rosie Kay’s 5 Soldiers has to be approached with a benevolent sentiment towards young military personnel. This is even more the case watching the show in an army town such as Brecon and also against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation into the deaths of soldiers in the Brecon Beacons and ugly claims made against the military establishment.
The show has the subscript The Body is the Frontline and that translates perfectly into a piece of meticulously researched and crafted dance-theatre that grew from a long period spend with troops to ensure the veracity of the movement. This also shows in how Rosie Kay has gone native i.e. she is clearly “on their side” and while there are a number of discomforting elements of military life touched upon, including the pernicious treatment of women and bullying generally, it is also handled with the sympathy towards the soldiers and no comment is made. In this respect it is almost a dance reality show; not a judgemental or analytical piece.
Yet, this is impossible when the soldier is not only the subject but the hero of the piece. He or she may be a trained, disciplined, somewhat mechanical and unthinking instrument of war, but the soldiers in this work display a range of emotions and, with a rather obvious ending, we are manipulated into being on their side as fellow human beings. We don’t have to love everything about them but ultimately this ends up a bit like a Help for Heroes benefit gig.
There is no need to go through the narrative which is from the five soldiers going through the largely mundane and boring (for them) activities including lots of beautifully synchronised drilling melding into individual expressive solo work, to injury-making military action. The dancers are fantastic with Duncan Anderson, Chester Hayes, Sean Marcs, Oliver Russell and Shelley Eva Haden in creating this sense of uniformity and also communicating individuality. The control of the military automaton is contrasted with the off duty larking around and it is in this section that Kay explores the gender issue with the woman soldier not on the alcohol-fused male night out but indulging in her own clichéd feminine side, luxuriating in dusting herself in her underwear. There is a stylised threatening sexual encounter from the men, individually and collectively, but this is transposed into a rather gentle love (as in respect, idolisation, longing, worship, gentleness rather than coitus) scene.
Just as the soldiers are shown as more than the typical squaddie, vulgar, swaggering, aggressive, they are also seen as vulnerable, wracked by their own demons, and plagued by the reality of army life whether that is insect bites, heat, frustration, boredom and, of course, physical injury. The modern automated and high-tech element of war is projected, literally, through flickering lines of code.
The show’s ending fell flat for me as it is supposed to shock or at least tug on the heart-strings. Yet the image of the amputee soldier is sadly so familiar that it was instead a little sentimental, no matter how real. I would prefer have to see more exploration in the work of the other aspects of the hardships faced by the heroes, the lack of mental health and family support, the throwing on the scrap-heap when outside the military family, the effects of the consequences of their actions on their own state of minds, that bullying and mind control. Ultimately I would also have liked some context, that these were not five particular soldiers, but any five soldiers and that the circle of military life has been spinning for thousands of years and will, sadly, continue to do so.
This was not, I understand, Kay’s intention and as a snapshot of five soldiers it is excellent. I feel it could, however, be more with more analysis added to the reportage.
5 Soldiers, Rosie Kay Dance Company, Theatr Brycheniog, Brecon