In The Army Now

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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Rosie Kay is a professional dancer and choreographer. She recently spent two weeks with 4 Battalion, The Rifles of the British Army as part of her Rayne Foundation Fellowship for research purposes. This article is re-published from rosiekay.co.uk

by Rosie Kay

I really had the most extraordinary time! I was expecting it to be quite tough but it really did push me to my limits both physically, with exhaustion and also in learning new skills in such a short space of time. By the end I really felt like a female warrior!!

My first week was spent on Dartmoor 'A' Company were doing a long exercise on Dartmoor, all done on foot, so no light armoured vehicles and carrying all your equipment. We had a long day sitting in the camp at Okehampton. I sat in on the Company Major giving the orders, and I let my ears adjust to the array of abbreviations.

It was like listening to another language, I jotted down a few that I thought sounded important to know. After some food and a few hours sleep, we set off at 3am and began marching (or tabbing as they call it) across the moor. I had felt highly intimidated, there was one female medic, and nobody quite believed I was a dancer (who would!). Would I survive the day or would it exhaust me totally? I was determined not to let the dance world down in this adventure!

Stumbling out of the Land Rover, with my very heavy pack, my helmet clattering about my ears and wearing far too many clothes (including my body armour) I truly worried about my sanity, my knees and my back! Marching across moorland in the pitch black was a weird experience indeed.

Moonless Night

We caught up with the troops, and there followed a very atmospheric and ghostly march together. Each ten minutes they would stop to check their bearings, and the troops would form a line, each facing a different way like a herringbone. It was incredible how 60 troops could easily disappear in the blackness of the moonless night. My mind started to play tricks on me and I started seeing soldiers when it was just the edge of a wall or a large bush.

Then began the first of the many attacks that I would witness over the next three days. Being a complete imbecile, I didn't know that firing blanks meant that nothing came out of the weapon. As we got closer to the action, I tried to hide behind the officer I was with (without him noticing) as I was so frightened!

I watched as the company attacked on three sides, and realised how difficult it was to know where the enemy fire was coming from. I was also really intrigued about how the whole exercise had to be 'choreographed'. As they attacked they had to cover each of their movements and really work together as a team.

After quite a quick battle, we had some breakfast and some tea. It was most welcome, and I even strangely enjoyed the vacuum packed ration of hamburger and beans. It reminded me a little of cat food, but I was starving after a long, dark morning. We continued across Dartmoor all day, with another battle just before dusk.

Unlike the soldiers I was able to get a lift back to the base camp as the freezing mist came down over the tors. I was very relieved as my feet were soaking wet after going in bogs up to my thighs, and I was in dire need of some more food and some rest. I got back to camp at about 7pm and had some take-away fish and chips, never were they more delicious. That was a long first day, and I crawled into my sleeping bag, knowing I would be woken up again in just a few hours.

Dartmoor

The following days on Dartmoor were taken up with seeing very different battle situations. I left the camp at midnight the next night and watched a dawn raid on a house in the middle of Dartmoor, and the following night I witnessed a very spectacular attack on a Napoleonic Fort near Plymouth.

By the end I had began to get a bit exhausted, only a few hours sleep a night, the cold and the exertion took its toll, as well as the fact that I was getting used to such a bizarre situation! I was beginning to pack and repack my day sack with true professionalism, and I would engage in chats with the soldiers about kit! This reminded me that dancers clothes really are very important when you are being physical.

Once back to Barracks I needed to get used to quite a different pace of life. There are sudden bursts of activity, a battalion run, or 'Battle Physical Training' (Battle PT), and then quiet periods where I didn't have too much to do, but write up my notes and wait for the next fabulous treat to be served in the officers mess! I was staying at the officer's mess, with my own basic but very comfortable room.

Each evening dinner was served at 7.30pm prompt, and it had a strict dress code. After all day in combat uniform it felt nice to have to dress up and feel like a normal person again in the evenings. Some evenings it felt extremely surreal to have a three-course dinner followed by chats and a glass of port!

Bullets from Russia

While at barracks I also went to the range and learned how to shoot a rifle. This was quite daunting, but I ended up discovering that I was a good shot! The company thus decided that I was indeed, as they feared, a Russian spy!

On my last two days I had the truly great experience of observing from the enemy position. R Company was playing the enemy in deserted villages on Salisbury Plain against the Coldstream Guards.

I joined them on a dank wet morning, as they were all dressed as locals in an Iraqi village. Watching how the troops took control of the village, how they interacted with people they didn't know were friend of foe, and then how a suicide bomber completely displaced the space was fascinating.

All in all a totally once in a lifetime experience. I am using my research to start work on a new piece, with the working title of 'The Body is The Frontline'. This probably won't premiere until May 2010, it's going to take a lot of research and I am hoping to collaborate with a theatre director on the content. I will keep you posted...

Many thanks to all who looked after me at Kiwi Barracks.

Rosie Kay Dance Company will be performing 'Supernova' and 'Double Points | K' next on Wednesday 25th February 2009, 7.30pm // Oakengates Theatre @ The Place, Telford. Touring through March.

[ Rosie Kay Dance Company ]
[ 'Supernova' on Article19 ]
[ 'Double Points K' on Article19 ]

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