In conversation with Rosie Kay

Rosie Kay is the founder of Birmingham-based Rosie Kay Dance Company. This September her company will perform the award-winning 5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the Frontline at the Yeomanry House. We chatted to her about her inspiration for the work and the future of her company.

Tell us about Rosie Kay Dance Company, how did the company come about?
I founded Rosie Kay Dance Company in 2004. I’d danced abroad for several years, in Poland, France and Germany and had been making about one new work a year. I returned to the UK to really focus on making my own work, and found a home in Birmingham. The company has grown, from small duet and solo work, to full length shows and mid-scale touring. We’re really delighted to receive NPO status from 2018, which will really help us reach more audiences.

What about 5 SOLDIERS, what inspired you to create a piece exploring the body in combat?
I experienced an injury to my leg whilst performing on stage. A lift went wrong and I ended up dislocating my left knee. I was told I wouldn’t be able to dance again and that it would take a year to build up the strength to walk again. Under the influence of the anaesthetic, I had a vision that my leg had been blown off and I was in a desert surrounded by bombs going off.  It was around the time of the Iraq war and I suddenly saw these faces of young soldiers in a new light. Conversations around warfare have more recently become focused on technological advancements, but soldiers are still putting their bodies on the frontline, risking their health and knowing that they could return with amputations or other life-changing injuries. I began wondering what the training was like that prepared these soldiers for taking that risk and so started my research with the 4th Battalion The Rifles. Training for combat is both physically and psychologically demanding. It requires discipline, teamwork and trust in others, attention, strength and stamina, things that I felt dance training had a particular connection with. It was these links that suggested how dance, and its use of the body, could be a powerfully appropriate medium to explore the lead up to and effects of combat. 5 SOLDIERS became the first of a trilogy of works that I went onto create that looks specifically at the body and asks who exercises control over it in these different contexts.

Can you tell us a bit about the process behind creating the show?
I’ve spent a lot of time with soldiers, talking about their experiences, watching them train, joining in full battle exercises, and also getting to know those being treated at military rehabilitation centres. I’ve met soldiers who I’ve seen go through training and then have returned from Afghanistan as amputees. I always put in a lot of research before developing a show, and in this case that felt especially important given the sensitivity of the issues that I was proposing to explore. This is real life for many young men and women and it was vital to get it right. To prepare the dancers for performing the work, this year we enrolled them on three days of intense combat exercises deep in the Scottish countryside. The dancers trained alongside Exercise Solway Eagle, which involved members of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Scots DG) who are soon to be deployed on an overseas peacekeeping mission, so they were able to absorb their movements, body language and see the relationships between soldiers.

How has creating the show changed/ influenced your views on the armed forces?
Before I started developing the show, I felt quite distanced from the Armed Forces, as I’m sure many of the general public feel. It’s a world full of codes, signals and terminology that perhaps creates a divide that makes engagement and understanding quite challenging. What we know of soldiers is often through representations in the media or as statistics in the news, so what I’ve tried to do in this work is humanise the people that serve in The Army. They are not merely bodies that are sent off to war, they have their own struggles which they deal with individually and as a team. The institution has this overarching control over their bodies however there’s still huge scope for individual experience within that. It’s this relationship between collective identity and individual experience that really comes through in the show.

What’s next for Rosie Kay Dance Company?
We’ve just been awarded a huge commission from The Space which is enabling us to live stream one of the performances of 5 SOLDIERS, so I’d highly recommend tuning in to that on Friday 8 September, 7.45pm. I’d also recommend looking out for Modern Warrior, which is happening on Sunday 24 September as part of Birmingham Weekender. We’re looking for participants (‘warriors’) interested in vintage kung-fu films and martial arts to help us stage a procession through the city which will culminate in Birmingham New Street Station. People can sign up to get involved via the Facebook page: /RKDCModernWarrior

Click here for more information about 5 SOLDIERS’ live stream.

Book here for tickets to performances of 5 SOLDIERS at the Yeomanry House 7 – 9 Sep.