Before 5 Soldiers embarks on its UK tour, we caught up with dancer Harriet Ellis, the only female member of the cast, to talk about Army life, training to be a soldier, and femininity in a male-dominated environment.

 

 

5 Soldiers is pretty different to MK ULTRA, the last show you worked on with Rosie Kay Dance Company! What do you like about working on this production?

I love the military physicality and demanding nature of the work. The movement feels strong and empowering to dance. I also have a lot of similarities to my role as the only female soldier and enjoy playing out her boyish, playful and fighting characteristics.

I also think one of the work’s values is that it enables audiences to feel what it’s like to be a soldier on the front line. As dancers, we are able to lead audiences into that experience through the medium of our bodies, exploring the movement vocabulary with as much accuracy and honesty as possible. This makes the piece very special for me to dance.

How would you describe the military training you did as preparation for the show? What did you have to do and what did you take away from it?

As part of our preparation for 5 Soldiers the full cast spent a week attached The the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, on operation Solway. We observed and participated in a range of exercises including an ambush, dealing with casualties, live fire shooting and an OP. We also spent time socialising with the soldiers, gaining a better understanding of a soldier’s day-to-day life.

I noticed their extreme discipline, how quickly they took commands and dealt with situations including their challenging work conditions which at that time were heavy rain and masses of mosquitos! I also gained an understanding of Army ranks and learnt commands, signals and rules. The exercises that we did clearly demonstrated the importance of leadership, bravery, teamwork and commitment within the military.

As the only woman in the show, how does your role relate and interact with the other characters?

Her interactions with the other soldiers are often playful, perhaps flirtatious but also defensive and guarded. Living in an extremely male dominant environment, the female treads a fine line between using her power, in the presence of men who are deprived of female company and touch, and becoming vulnerable to them.

Like the others, she is strong, disciplined and a team player, but unlike the men, she is always trying to prove herself as equal, against gender stereotypes. She also values her privacy where she does not have to hide or conceal her feminine beauty.

During the tour you’ll be performing and spending time in Army bases, and you’ve worked with military personnel in training. Have you picked up any Army slang behind the scenes?

When we were training, the soldiers were calling me “Ally” and I thought that they had got my name wrong! I later found out that Ally or Allyness refers to military fashion sense. When the soldiers were saying ‘Hello Ally’, they were implying that my uniform looked cool and fashionable!

In rehearsals we’ve also started using Army lingo to communicate with each other. ‘Morning trooper’, ‘Squad!’, ‘Atteeeention’ and a brisk salute across the room are a few of my favourites.

5 SOLDIERS: The Body is the Frontline is coming to Edinburgh, London, Hull, Aldershot, Swindon, Colchester and Birmingham. Book your tickets now.