5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the Frontline

Drill Hall, Handel Street, London
September 9, 2017

Charlotte Kasner

We start with drill, and more drill. Fitness, routine, repetition, perfection. Dancers at the barre, soldiers on the parade ground. Let’s play dead. Your turn, now you, now him. Then deployment. Much waiting. Boredom interspersed with acute activity and stress. Then more waiting, more boredom. Time to brood. Time to live, love, fight and play. Bask in the sun.

5 SOLDIERS, five soldiers: four men, one woman. Just one of the boys but then not. Drinking, leering. Jokes just on the edge of threatening. Lust and maybe love.

The final wait, flying over enemy territory, double rotor blades in strobing shadows and deafening roar. Bodies like turtles, backpacks a physical burden. Together as bodies, alone as minds. This is where the drill has led, maybe for the last time ever. Then freefall, a sky ballet where there is nothing but air; above, below, roaring in the ears. Bodies falling, ground rushing up.

On patrol. Thumping hearts, racing pulses. Eyeballs bursting to see all round, ears straining for every squeak, rustle, breath, hint that danger may be waiting. The unseen enemies: one external the other personal demons who must be suppressed for the sake of comrades.

I…E…D. Seconds when sound, light and senses combine and then the shaking. Cold, stunned and uncontrollable shaking. Can’t hear now. can’t think. Just shaking. Drill. Remember drill. One down. Your dead. No. Not dead. Pick him up bind his wounds. Pack him for home.

5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the FrontlinePhoto Brian Slater
5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the Frontline
Photo Brian Slater

Now a new body. The mind struggling to catch up. Back to drill. No more at the double. One step, two steps. Each a major victory. Four out of five. A new team. Back to their drill. Start again. Until the next time.

Stress, boredom, routine, short careers. There is much that soldiers and dancers have in common, with one obvious exception. Dancers and soldiers live in closed, pressured worlds. There is bullying, partying, sex and work, work, work. Camaraderie, enmity, jealousy, ambition.

Rosie Kay has refined 5 SOLDIERS for seven years to produce a tight, emotive evening that never strays into sentiment, never oversteps the mark in the delicate arena in which it operates and leaves the audience thinking and questioning assumptions.

This is difficult ground to cover that the Army is itself only just coming to terms with privately, never mind publicly. Both Kay and they are to be congratulated in having the courage to tackle so many sensitive subjects with no holds barred. But 5 SOLDIERS is no lecture. It manages to be moving, frightening and, at times, beautiful. So often, the public face of the army is sentimental, jingoistic or defensive. Opening up to the arts has given both a chance to examine the complexities and nuances in the relationships that evolve when people are thrown together to hold each other’s lives in their hands.

I had the privilege of not only seeing 5 SOLDIERS in a working drill hall, the fatigues of the cast blending in with the fatigues of the host, but in the company of a serving officer who had flown in just hours before and sacrificed his first evening home. Without this, I might have worried that this was covering territory too painful to tread. But no. Mutual understanding and co-operation were the order of the day.

The present tour of Army venues is short but 5 SOLDIERS is also presently available online. It’s a must see in any form. Two worlds that may seem at opposite ends of the spectrum have united through dance and begun the process of healing. However, many different ways man will devise of hurting his fellow man, the need for rejuvenation will always be there and dance holds one key to how to start to open those doors.

5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the Frontline continues on tour to mid-October. Visit www.5soldiers.co.uk for dates and venues.