War, and the effect of war, are not subjects usually associated with dance, but they are in fact themes long favoured by choreographers from Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria (1980) to Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother (2010). In their very different ways these two examine the futility and suffering of war, a theme picked up by Rosie Kay in 5 Soldiers. Her piece dates from 2010, and the current revival tour indicates its success as a commentary on combat, albeit in contrasting style to Gloria and Political Mother.
It is more literal than either of these works, with a company of five soldiers (men and women) realistically depicted in army fatigues and boots, training on the parade ground, socializing before battle, parachuting out of helicopters (very cleverly portrayed), and struggling with maimed bodies in battle. It is perhaps a little too literal, with some gestures and actions insufficiently metamorphosed for the stage. The production is also a little too long (especially the sniper scene), which means its pace and coherence occasionally flags, but it is otherwise a powerful account of the effect of battle on the body.
Kay’s key idea is that despite modern technology, the human body cannot be designed out of war. The soldier still fights, is still flesh and blood, and still suffers considerable trauma when discharged. The use of military-related venues for the tour emphasises this by locating the performance where the impact is experienced. All five dancers perform with commitment and skill, with the lighting and soundscape contributing to the atmosphere.