Dance review: Rosie Kay, Festival Theater, Edinburgh

Rosie Kay PIC: Brian Slater

When we took our seats for the first live dance performance at the Festival Theater since early 2020, there was a palpable sense of gratitude to be back. It’s a space that was filled with dance companies in droves, but tonight it belonged to one woman – Rosie Kay. At 45, more than 20 years since her last solo, she goes up on stage alone and occupies it as much as a corps de ballet of 40 people.

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Kay choreographed the 2018 Commonwealth Games award ceremony and the glorious dance routines of Sunshine On Leith. His inspired work of the 5 Soldiers Army has toured the world, winning several awards.

In comparison, Absolute Solo II is tiny. The kind of show you would see hidden away in a small studio. So, how wonderful it is to find this stimulating testimony of the female body given the status it deserves.

Opening with Artemis Clown, a 15-minute piece from 2018, Kay demonstrated the ever-firm mastery she has of her technique – contemporary, supported by ballet grace. A punchy ten-minute clip from his first solo exhibition followed, filmed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1999.

Then it was time to join Kay on the deeply moving autobiographical journey that is Adult Female Dancer. A new play fueled by vulnerable self-disclosure, but with a quality for all women.

Through a recorded voiceover, Kay explains how she danced before she could speak. Arriving 13 months after the death of her brother, she was “born in sorrow” and “danced to heal the pain”.

We hear the catalog of injuries she suffered in her career, her body’s journey from precocious puberty to sexual assault, and how a difficult birth almost killed Kay and her son.

But there’s also the sheer, unfettered joy of dancing – and that’s what Kay leaves us with.

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