Earlier in the month I briefly Tweeted “Really looking forward to Rosie Kay’s show next week. Rosie Kay = super talented tough cookie…”. And just how tough became even more apparent to us all in her new work, Adult Female Dancer – it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a piece of dance theatre quite so moving and thought-provoking.
Simply dressed in a white t-shirt and leggings, 45-year-old Kay tells us about her life in a series of short statements over an eclectic mix of music varying from Brian Eno, through Bach and Morricone to Patti Smith and Henry Mancini. It starts simply with Kay saying she has been a dancer ever since she can remember and listing her accomplishments, including dancing all around the world at the highest level and, notably, also meeting Prince Andrew! I was particularly struck by the bullet-point way all these highs were presented – such a great way of giving a eulogy (as one gets older one hears more and more of them…).
But then the summing up changes and morphs as we get a list of all Kay’s dancing injuries and operations (it’s not a short list) and on to family memories and her experiences as a woman: Rohypnol, rape, abortions and nearly dying giving birth to her son. It’s beyond brave as she strips off the layers, but her resilience shines through. Throughout Kay commands the stage with movement that captures the mood of her spoken words, sometimes slowly economical, sometimes boldly triumphant. It’s a breathtakingly honest look at a life lived and we see the sum of it all before us: real flesh and blood on stage and making a difference to others’ lives. And it made me reflect on the wider resilience that we can all show at times. So often we concentrate on the triumphs and know so little of the adversity behind that makes us who we are. In telling us her story so graphically Kay makes us reflect on our own life with its ups and downs.
The evening opened with Artemis Clown, a 2018 solo originally for Gemma Paganelli of Eliot Smith Dance. Like Adult Female Dancer it is about stripping away layers, but this time centred on female dancing, “…showing more and more authenticity and allowing an audience into another human’s soul.” It’s the most overtly choreographed of the three pieces, often leading its music (Corelli, Kurtag, Ravel) with formal, almost classroom, steps, gorgeously smooth expansive flights, rippling speed, furious shakes and occasional self admonishment. But Kay’s new choice of Pierrot/commedia dell’arte costume really does her no favours and the original floaty white affair might well have been best retained.
The middle work, Patisserie, is an archive video recording of a 1999 Edinburgh Fringe performance, which was part of Kay’s original and first Absolute Solo show. It’s a sharp look at women’s love/hate relationship with cosmetics/appearance and points up Kay’s commitment to immersive research in making so much of her work. She recites pithy sentences from verbatim interviews with young Polish women about their appearance. Funny and almost tragic by turns, the ante is turned up by Kay’s sharp work outfit, contrasting with extravagantly free and over-the-top movement. Certainly, Kay is no slave to lipstick as she uncomfortably stalks the stage. L’Oréal is unlikely to come knocking.
Yep, Rosie Kay is a talented tough cookie, and an oh-so-thoughtful one too. You should certainly try and catch her on the show’s brief tour to Salisbury (16 Jun) and Edinburgh (24 Jul). But in parallel with her solo show, Kay is also working on a Romeo and Juliet for her own company – under the title Romeo + Juliet – which premieres on 8 September 2021 at the Birmingham Hippodrome.