Scottish choreographer Rosie Kay has been on more than a decade-long journey with her provocative dance “5 Soldiers,” which gets its U.S. premiere in The City this week.
It began around 2008, when she semi-surreptitiously joined a British infantry battalion after a dance injury and a dream that one of her legs was blown off prompted her to consider the connections between dancers’ and soldiers’ bodies.
“I was the only woman with 200 men, doing exercises with soldiers just back from Iraq in pre-deployment training for Afghanistan,” says Kay. Though she was “absolutely terrified” at first, she found her dance training enabled her to keep up, surprising her comrades, whose reactions weren’t “as bad” as some dance critiques she’s had: “I got way more positive reinforcement than I’m used to.”
In 2010, the Birmingham, England-based Rosie Kay Dance Company debuted “5 Soldiers,” subtitled “The Body Is the Frontline,” to critical acclaim. Reprised several times, it has won rave reviews and awards and increased attention from the military.
Today it has full support from, and collaboration with, the military. Its U.S. run, presented by San Francisco Performance in the Veterans Building starting Thursday, also includes a free show for veterans.
Created with composer Annie Mahatani, whose soundscape includes recordings from military bases as well as snippets from The Clash, Katy Perry and the hymn “Stabat Mater,” exemplifying the element of sacrifice, Kay says the “very intense” 65-minute piece is about the making, breaking and putting together of a soldier.
It has three parts. The first, with drill marching, Kay says, “is what we’re used to seeing,” with the soldiers not viewed as human. In the second, the soldiers “let their hair down and reveal who they are.” In the third, they’re dumped by helicopter onto terrain planted with bombs, in prolonged fight mode.
In an epilogue, a “double amputee learns how to dance, and live,” Kay says.
The cast features four men and one woman — performers who are believable as soldiers, and effortless, says Kay, adding that not all dancers can fill the role: “It’s dancers who love to push themselves; they literally are addicted to the show.”
Although “5 Soldiers” has just a one-week run in the U.S. this year, Kay is working on bringing it back on a West Coast tour in 2020, and also is in the process of creating a larger-scale version called “10 Soldiers.”
She says, “Every time I come back to the show, I learn more about it. When you train people to kill or be killed, it affects the human psyche. It’s like the Greeks, asking big questions about what it means to be human.”
IF YOU GO
Rosie Kay Dance
Presented by: San Francisco Performances
Where: Taube Atrium Theater, Veterans Building, fourth floor, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 11-12, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 13
Contact: (415) 392-2545, www.sfperformances.org
Note: A free performance for veterans only is at 2 p.m. April 12; call (415) 677-0325 for tickets.