A decade ago, renowned choreographer Rosie Kay gained an attachment with The British Army. Her mission was to create a performance piece that communicated the experiences of young soldiers through dance.
Ten years on, Kay has widened out her original dance production into a thrilling and humane portrait of army life with 10 SOLDIERS. At Norwich Theatre Royal on June 4, it tells the stories of men and women serving on the frontline.
The theatre is one of only three venues to host the production (the others being Birmingham Hippodrome, which commissioned the piece, and Edinburgh Festival Theatre) in a tour which is presented in association with The British Army.
Kay’s initial work with The Army was inspired by a personal experience of injury, an interest in exploring the hidden reality of life as a soldier, and a vision of empathy with those willing to sacrifice so much of themselves for their jobs. As she recovered from an injury, Kay started looking at the parallels between the training of soldiers and dancers, and how the body could be used as a shared medium to start conversations about identity, discipline, motivation and trauma.
After training with 4th Battalion The Rifles and participating in full battle exercises, she visited the National Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre where she spent spending time with amputees and injured veterans listening to their stories of comradery, commitment, sacrifice and bravery. From this, Kay developed her original show 5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the Frontline, which garnered 5-star reviews and toured to theatres and Army barracks for ten years.
In 2017, the piece gained further traction winning official support from The Army in recognition of its contribution to soldiers’ wellbeing and as an accurate representation of life in the Armed Forces.
To expand the piece for larger stages, her five soldiers has grown into a full squad of ten and takes a fresh look at life in The Army in 2019. Charged with Kay’s trademark intense athletic dance theatre, a cast of ten dancers play the roles of a company of soldiers who train together, building stamina and expertise, before being sent into the heart of a conflict zone.
Together they experience the physical and psychological effects of war, forming life-long friendships along the way whilst witnessing both the brutality and compassion humanity is capable of. With a bigger cast, Kay has dug deeper into relationships between soldiers, including the growing presence of women in the military and the inclusion and contributions of BAME soldiers tapping into issues around equality and diversity in The Army.
Kay, who choreographed the 2018 Commonwealth Games handover performance which broadcast live from the West Midlands globally to over one billion people, said: “Working with soldiers over the last ten years has been an incredible and eye-opening experience. Over 8,000 people join the British Army each year yet it’s not a world that many members of the public get to access.
“Dance and theatre increase this access, enabling the general public to see behind the curtain and learn about soldiers’ lives, witnessing the foundations of their commitment to each other, inner strength and dedication in coping with war and recovery.
“I’ve been thrilled to hear such positive feedback from soldiers, with 5 SOLDIERS gaining a loyal following from members of the military and their families. A lot has changed in The Army since my initial research ten years ago, so 10 SOLDIERS is updated to reflect that. Hopefully even more people will have the opportunity to see the show now we are taking it to bigger stages around the country.”
On the night of the Theatre Royal performance, there will be a short curtain-raiser performance (around 6-8 mins) by 30 local young people aged 12-25.