Photo – Brian Slater

Well this one does what it says on the tin. You get 10 soldiers, expressing themselves through dance. Well maybe they are not actually soldiers, but the process of getting from start to finish seems very similar.

This is an energetic, wonderfully choreographed, engaging and often elegant show that gives the ten dancers time and space to build and develop distinctive characters in a harsh and militaristic context.

The initial impact for me comes from the realisation that the disciplines of dance and soldier training have a lot more in common than I might ever had considered. Why would I? Both roles are physical, involve close personal teamwork and challenge our comfortable notions of privacy and self determination. Both appear to have the aim of achieving a greater end by dint of disciplined cooperation. But the outcomes have nothing in common.

Director and Choreographer Rosie Kay has set out to show us the business of being a soldier as a physical, young and above all human being. We send out these disciplined and trained youngsters just as they are leaving the confusion of childhood and discovering their adult powers and strengths but possibly before they have had time and leisure to consider the morality and impact of their choices. The work is subtitled ’The body is the frontline’ and this work shows how viscerally true this can be when the bullets start to fly. Much of the work looks at the build up to the organised violence, the training, bonding, carousing and misbehaving which all seem to be part of becoming a soldier. Rosie Kay wants us to look at soldiers in a different way after seeing this performance, and she certainly has created a very graphic and eloquent picture of their real lives. My worry is that this work, like the obliged soldiers themselves, remains resolutely silent on the morality of decision-making that puts these young so directly into mortal danger, to both themselves and the always unseen others with whom they are ordered to engage.

There are two female dancers amongst the ten and this work looks at the tensions in a multi-gender and multi-ethnic context that are likely to be the reality of soldier squads now. The work originated in an earlier 2010 show called 5 soldiers which impressed the backers who have helped this become 10. The dancers are all absolutely first class and very fit, as like the squaddies they portray their exercise routines within the work are physically very demanding, with old car tyres being lobbed around amongst other things.

There are some challenges to an audience in this work – the soundscape is often disturbing and uncomfortable and if you are not appreciative of militarism you may find parts of it hard to watch. But I think Director Rosie Kay is right to say that you will look at soldiers differently after seeing this work. It takes a harsh world but presents it in an elegant and understandable way that allows for strong character development within the evolution of the fighting squad. This was only the third performance of this exuberant and modern work – if you get a chance in future to see it don’t hesitate to get a ticket. It may also be the only dance performance you see that is sponsored by the British Army!

© Julian Swainson 2019