5 Soldiers

Broadway Baby / Molly Stacey

Nestled in the artsy comfort of the Fringe bubble, it is all too easy to forget about the murmurings – or in some cases, bellowings – of war that have been thrown back and forth across our doorstep this past month. For many, 21st century warfare, with its nuclear weaponry and computer-calculated means of destruction, can seem an incorporeal affair. Not so in Rosie Kay’s astonishing 5 Soldiers, in which the very real blood, sweat and tears of the human body are positioned on the frontline of the Fringe.

Not a momet drags in this high-octane hour of humourous highs and gut-wrenching lows

5 Soldiers, a multi-disciplinary modern dance piece which unobtrusively incorporates music and media into an exhilarating, athletic performance, is non-verbal storytelling at its most successful. The Rosie Kay Dance Company achieves the genuine, thought-provoking end experience which so many shows aspire to by exposing two highly exclusive worlds of the Army and the arts, and combining them with respect and humanity. In the case of the former, the ‘opening up’ is quite literal; the performance takes place in the drill hall of Edinburgh’s own Army Reserve Centre, and the five dancers previously spent a week with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in preparation for the piece. Civilian audience members will likely find themselves sharing stalls with local serving men and women, for many of whom what is being witnessed on stage is both culturally alien and entirely familiar. Through this real sense of dialogue and shared experience, Kay – with tangible assistance from the generous and honest Armed Forces groups she has collaborated with – takes us on an engrossing hour-long journey into a world that many Fringe-goers will likely never know.

Superhuman athleticism is fully on display in this piece, with Kay’s choreography fully showcasing the unbelievable synchronicity of five bodies working as one. The parallels between dancers and soldiers – the extreme discipline, the pushing of muscles and minds to punishing limits on a daily basis – is suggested too, but never forced upon, its audience. Rather, the commonality is made abundantly clear as the five dancers sweat, pant and perfectly execute their way through the most rigorous of sequences and styes. As disciplined training regimen morphs into dance, the similarities prompt further question: when does the frivolity of mimicry and performance become lethal action? The lines between performance and reality, between genuine and pretend exhaustion and determination, blur entirely.

The dancers do incredible justice to the serving men and women they portray. Never breaking character and constantly giving their athletic and emotional all, these are surely five of the most exquisitely talented performers at the Fringe this year. Harriet Ellis is nevertheless the stand-out star in this already formidable ensemble, her explosive energy throughout culminating in a nuanced performance which perfectly balances the vulnerability and fight of the female perspective which her character provides. Indeed, the ticket price alone is easily worth it for Ellis’s ten minute lead segment: a impeccable performance which intelligently explores the precarious place of femininity in war zones both inside and outside the army base.

Not a moment drags in this high-octane hour of humourous highs and gut-wrenching lows, with the whole piece deftly plotted so as to take you through these young people’s lives in a way that illuminates and surprises. Sitting in one of Edinburgh’s most diverse audiences, a short walk from the impenetrable tradition and grandeur of the Military Tattoo, civilians and military personnel alike are confronted with fresh takes on the way the human body reacts when placed under inordinate amounts of physical and emotional pressure. This accessible but uncompromising piece is not to be missed.