Men and women lead military lives in almost every country but the general public is typically unacquainted with such a lifestyle. In our preconceptions of the military, few would relate it to dancing, but such attempt by director Rosie Kay‘s 5 Soldiers combines the two magnificently. In a rare attempt to relate the beauty of the human body to the ever unpredictable lives that soldiers lead, Kay has produced something powerful and stirring. Brought to you by York Theatre Royal and staged at the Imphal Barracks, this strictly protected military venue added a layer of ferment that was uniquely fitting with this production; 5 Soldiers is perhaps one of the most philosophical dances one can experience in a military base.
“Good evening, Colonel!” A real soldier saluted to his superior with his mighty voice as the audience waited for the show to begin. The atmosphere was strangely relaxed yet remained serious. My expectations were high as we entered the venue, which was designed as a square stage and surrounded by roughly 100 seats. A surprise announcement augmented the tension when we discovered the performance would be limited to four Soldiers (three men, one woman) instead of five; one of the dancers, Sean Marcs, was injured during rehearsal. Such an unexpected situation would be a test for the cast’s sophistication and professionalism.
The burden of retrieving their inner femininity outside of their uniform is solely on them
The performance began with the daily training of the four soldiers, their footsteps corresponding with the music to decorate the venue with a sense of harmony. Duncan Anderson and Oliver Russell were two youngsters who kept their youth in their hearts and treated each other like brothers. Their fear and respect for their superior Chester Hayes firmly established Hayes as leader whereas Shelley Eva Haden was seen treated with extra kindness due to her gender. The physicality and perfect coordination of their training disclosed countless hours of rehearsal and put their artful adjustment to Marcs’ absence on display.
The most memorable scene occurred immediately after the opening, once the characters had finished their duties for the day. In an overwhelmingly masculine environment the sexual tension escalated when Haden, the lone woman, stripped to her underwear under a harsh spotlight; the men gazed as if fresh meat was on offer. Haden’s ballet-like movement, whilst creating a noticeable contrast to her other self under that military uniform, failed to distance her from her colleagues. They encircled her, both with their intimidating movements and palpable desire. Shifting from a mutually supportive relationship, Haden’s helplessness exposed the complex role of a female solider. The dual identity of women within the military was exhibited in her struggle between identifying as a strong, independent and lethal solider and the sexual temptation her gender appeared to carry, a dilemma which every woman who live in the military world faces. Women in camouflage are expected to train and operate at the same level as their male counterparts, as seen throughout the production; yet the burden of retrieving their inner femininity outside of their uniform is solely on them. The scene ended when Haden surrendered her body and the men carried her on their arms and shoulders, combining their animalistic dance and her feminine ballet into a sexual hybrid. Haden sat firmly on her co-workers’ shoulders, appeared to be victorious with an emotionally dead face; this presented an unsettling coronation of her being both a queen and a victim.
Brotherhood, self-sacrifice and homosexuality, all expressed through the spiritually romantic dance which carried out by the aesthetic flawlessness of two males’ bodies is definitely the highlight of the 5 Soldiers
The themes of brotherhood, and potentially homosexuality, within the army are also prominent. Anderson and Russell’s naked dance duet saw their bodies move as one and was breathtakingly beautiful. The production team clearly explored the aesthetic of the male body as their muscles united with their every touch. The subtle presentation of such a taboo subject within the military world was carried out with such subtlety that one would instantly understand the human obsession with nudity throughout history; brotherhood, self-sacrifice and homosexuality, all expressed through the spiritually romantic dance which carried out by the aesthetic flawlessness of two males’ bodies is definitely the highlight of the 5 Soldiers.
For once, it is almost impossible to praise one individual more highly as the soul of the 5 Soldiers rests on its collectiveness. With Marcs’ sudden absence, some transitions clearly lost their fluidity but this could not detract from such unique and thought-provoking performance. Receiving waves of favorable reviews since April, their adventure to York is a triumph. The experience of witnessing such wonder at a military venue is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one audience would unlikely to forget anytime soon.