In 2008, choreographer Rosie Kay spent time with the 4th Battalion The Rifles, where she watched and partook in full battle exercises, and visited the National Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre. Her experiences led to the creation of award-winning,five-star work, ‘5 Soldiers’.
Since the piece’s premiere in April 2010, the work has now expanded for a larger stage, becoming ‘10 Soldiers’, which has its world premiere at the Birmingham Hippodrome.
Tackling issues of diversity and equality within the British Army of 2019, ‘10 Soldiers’ emphasises the significance of the human body as the front-line, telling the stories of service men and women through the powerful medium of dance.
Starting with a bang, this explosive piece presents a kaleidoscopic view of army life, recreating the sounds and the silences, the light and the dark, the camaraderie and the conflict of modern warfare.
Dynamic and purposeful, ‘10 Soldiers’ follows an Army squad ‘From Street Civvy to Soldier’, as we see these men and women subjected to the fierce and unrelenting discipline of army life, the frequent repetition of their movement a reflection of routine.
With this piece, the Rosie Kay Dance Company establishes itself as being on the front-line of modern dance, showing themselves to be forerunners in combining dance with theatre, the result being one that so vividly depicts true life. Rosie Kay’s extraordinary choreography is executed with military precision by the company of dancers, who perform these physically demanding roles with effortless athleticism. There is a blazing intensity to the piece, which is enhanced by the focus and determination of dancers, who do not just dance, but act.
With a notably diverse company, the piece also hinges on attitudes to equality within the British Army. With one female in a position of command, another trains and fights alongside the men in what has always been considered a masculine environment. Though generally treated in the same manner as the men in the squad, a solo piece which allows for a gentler, more graceful movement has a group of men circling a service-woman, staring at her, as their feelings appear to gain more sexual undertones which transcend the professional, or indeed the appropriate.
The piece highlights the camaraderie between this Army squad, and with it, the sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself. We become privy to the firm and loyal bonds between these men and women, the relationship, the friendships, and of course, to the inevitable conflicts that arise from their close proximity. There are several moments within the piece where fights erupt between the characters, but these are overshadowed by the powerful displays of friendship, even love, they have for one another, and the incomparable sense of grief they feel when one is injured.
From ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ to Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, interspersed with gunfire and the hissing of gas, the piece has a varied soundscape that incorporates contemporary pop culture with the sounds of modern warfare. The most powerful sound, however, is that of the human voice which, from the sharp inhaling and exhaling of breath, to the barking of orders, convey a great depth of tangible human emotion, adding an audible dimension that recognises the necessity of human communication.
With the human body a key focus of the piece, the movement reflects both mental and physical injury, which brings to attention the fragility of the human condition. We watch as the bodies of seemingly shell-shocked soldiers spasm, we watch the group battle through the brutal and unforgiving training drills, and we watch a soldier learn to walk again after having both legs amputated at the knee. Not only do we see the fragility of the human body, however, we are also able to recognise, to celebrate, its inner strength, and its ability to survive.
A production founded on respect, loyalty and courage, ‘10 Soldiers’ is a spectacular achievement – one worthy of a salute.