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Army Life Turned Into Modern Dance
Evolving over time, this dance production that first emerged in 2010 has become quite the pet project for choreographer Rosie Kay.
Returning to the stage with some further fine-tuning, what was originally 5 Soldiers is now 10. It's bigger than ever before, on a much larger scale and stage for its world premiere at Birmingham Hippodrome, but is it better?
Birmingham-based Rosie Kay Dance Company opened its brief UK tour of 10 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline with a fanfare at Birmingham Hippodrome on 21 May ahead of its visits to Edinburgh Festival Theatre and Norwich Theatre Royal. A line-up of 120 volunteer dancers accompanied a military drummer to perform in the foyer as a special preview, which also tied in with the Hippodrome's 120th anniversary.
What's-more, Olympic athlete and ex-military Dame Kelly Holmes was in the audience, in her pristine brown Army Dress Uniform, to see this unique production that uses modern dance to portray life in the Army.
It opens with a new first act called "From Civvy Street to Soldier" that takes the viewer back to when the cadets enlisted, slightly ahead of where the original 5 Soldiers production started from.
This adds more of a narrative around the characters as we get to know the various recruits – a variety of men, women and ethnicities. Then there is the gruelling intensity of enlisting for the armed forces. It's energetic, physical and character-led dance as they jump through tyres and endure a harsh training regime.
Kay worked closely with the military on the project and revealed it was one of the most physically demanding experiences in her life as she sweated through full battle exercises in the remote wilds of Dartmoor and Salisbury Plain.
The award-winning choreographer, who created the dance scenes in movie Sunshine on Leith, experienced first-hand the process of going through trials with the 4th Battalion The Rifles infantry along with time with injured soldiers at rehabilitation units at Surrey's Headley Court and in Birmingham. And that's clear from the realistic dramatisations and movement on stage.
Following the interval, the piece intensifies as the recruits head to war, while also having time for light relief. There's much more edginess and impactful dance sequences, particularly around the issues of sex in the Army and the effect of war on the mind and body in these sections.
What moved me the most, however, were the final scenes when a soldier undergoes rehabilitation to walk again after losing his limbs. It's cleverly constructed and powerfully emotive with a sense of optimism about it too.
There's a small cast of dancers but they are knit together so well in tune that it feels like there are many more on stage. All impress in their individual ways but Harriet Ellis has a strong storyline and is more noticeable due to that. A pas du deux with Luke Bradshaw show both their dancing abilities off in a good light while Emma Houston shows plenty of personality in her role.
What Kay does well is tell a story with her dance that gets under the skin. She uses sounds and breathing alongside simple, effective movements that are amplified on a larger stage.
Having 10 soldiers instead of five also makes it seem much more like a small Army unit and gives a greater sense of realism.
I never imagined that I'd get such an insightful view of life at play and at war in the armed forces through only dance. By expanding the show to 10 Soldiers, it commands even more attention and is a triumph for choreographer Kay.