Army life is ammunition for dancers

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How do you train a soldier to risk everything – including their life? That’s the question that prompted an award-winning dance show which has attracted praise from army veterans and generals alike as being a performance that “gets it”.

5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline has been performed to huge acclaim in England and Wales by the Rosie Kay Dance Company. And it’s now starting a Scottish tour, which includes two dates at Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling.

Duncan Anderson from Falkirk in 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline

Duncan Anderson from Falkirk in 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline

Among the company is Duncan Anderson, a dancer from Falkirk, who is enjoying a rare chance to stay with his family in Polmont for the duration of the tour.

The 20-year-old was also part of the original English tour and is relishing the chance to reprise his role.

He said: “It’s fantastic! It’s a great piece to be involved with. It’s physically very difficult and it’s mentally draining but I’m really enjoying it.”

It’s physically challenging because for 5 Soldiers, choreographer Rosie Kay spent weeks training with the army to gain an insider’s view on physical, demanding and often secretive world.

It took nearly two years to negotiate permission to get an attachment – but the experience allowed her to create the performance that has been hailed as “authentic” by many of its military visitors.

It all began with a dream. In 2007, Rosie suffered a bad injury on stage; at one point, it looked like she might not walk again, and she believed she would never dance again.

For someone with a stellar career – which includes choreographing the hit film Sunshine on Leith – this was disastrous.

Amid the pain, she dreamt she was on a battlefield and her leg had been blown off.

At the same time, she began to notice more and more the reports from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and her own fears about the fragility of her body meant the dangers they faced began to really hit home.

“I began to look at the soldiers and think – I risk my limbs on stage and I’ve trained for years to do that. How do you train a soldier to risk not just their limbs, but also their life?”

Her questions were answered with the attachment, where she eventually got an insight into the soldiers’ existence.

“I just wanted to fit in. At first, soldiers are very good at being soldiers: they’re macho and a bit scary.

“But once you’ve been on a training exercise together, they drop their defences and open up to you a bit about what it’s really like.”

She also got a placement at Headley Court, a rehabilitation centre for wounded soldiers which showed what the soldiers faced.

“It was a time when the Taliban changed their tactics and a lot of IEDs were being used. It was really psychological warfare – you couldn’t see the enemy and the blast impact was devastating.”

For the dancers, says Duncan, the authentic nature of the piece has made it an emotional challenge as much as a physical one.

“This is very much based on the modern military of today and there are actually real people going through these things,” he said.

“After each show it takes me a while to bring myself back to me. I take a bit of time on my own and remind myself that it’s just a part I’m playing.”

It is the authenticity of the piece that has struck a real chord with serving members of the army.

But Rosie had to balance that with her integrity as an artist creating a piece of theatre.

Rosie said: “They are really good at not letting outsiders in. But I don’t shy away from things; it does tackle the drinking, the harassment, the bullying.”

“But soldiers also talk about the beauty of Afghanistan and incredible moments of beauty, such as a sunset, for example.

“We can show that sort of psychological emotion as well as the physicality. I’m trying to reflect the way they are – the way they think.”

Both Rosie and Duncan are excited that some of the shows will be held in army barracks.

Said Rosie: “It’s about trying to take the work to different audiences. The military are a hard audience to engage with – they don’t usually go to theatre.

“But it’s also exciting for a general audience to be allowed in to quite a private world.”

All of the venues will also provide a community dance performance, before the Saturday evening show, which involves local dancers training with the company.

“That’s a very important part of the production,” said Rosie. The Friday evening show has a post-show discussion with local military representation.

For Duncan, it’s all the more precious that this tour allows him some time with his family because in the summer he’s heading for Stockholm to join the cast of Phantom of the Opera.

5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline is at the Macrobert Arts Centre on Friday, May 13 and Saturday, May 14.

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