Patrick Studio at the Birmingham Hippodrome
September 21, 2018
Who to believe? What to believe? If anyone. If anything. Yet belief is something we search for. So is it any surprise that people look for something to cling to, especially in a world where confusion and mistrust rules. Fake news and conspiracy theories have been around for centuries but with the advent of social media it’s much easier for them to spread and become the accepted currency of truth.
Rosie Kay’s reworking of MK Ultra is an often high-octane always visually powerful show that provides some commentary. It also raises questions and provokes thoughts. Just don’t go looking for definitive answers. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, they are impossible to pin down.
Named after the brainwashing and mind-control experiments of the CIA in the mid-20th-century, MK Ultra delves into the world of the Illuminati, it is claimed a shadowy and undefined group of individuals on a complex mission of global domination through controlling influential people in media and politics.
The theory is outlined briefly but clearly in Louis Price’s excellent backing projections that accompany the dance without dominating it. They never become a distraction. Not only do they appear in that most Illuminati of shapes, a triangle, but that are reflected impressively on the mirrored black dance floor in front. Indeed, at times, it appears as if the dancers are floating in mid-air.
Entertainers have a particular influence the theory suggests. It’s claimed that Walt Disney was in on the mind control experiments and that pop stars, notably Britney Spears, have been ‘reprogrammed’. The evidence is apparently that music videos include Illuminati symbols such as triangle, the all-seeing eye, butterflies, checked floors and broken mirrors. We are back to ‘What is truth?’ Is it simply whatever suits us? There’s much more in the highly informative programme notes that are well worth a read.
It’s the entertainment angle that the dance focuses on. The choreography owes much to music videos and icons, as does Annie Mahtani’s non-stop pulsating soundtrack. The ideas are also captured well in Gary Card’s excellent colourful body suits that are adorned with Illuminati symbols.
Kay’s reworking may not probe the complexities of the topic in great depth (admittedly very difficult) but it has strengthened the narrative so that it focuses more on one pop star. It is particularly strong in Act 2, appropriately titled ‘The Downfall’. The central character was danced with superb attention to detail by Carina Howard. At first, her dance has a sense of mindlessness about it, as if she was almost an automaton. As the brainwashing fails to work well and the effects start to wear off, she is seen fighting and railing against whatever it is that is trying to control her.
The other six members of the cast are superb too. Although they twist and stretch and goodness knows what else at speed demanded by the choreography, they never lose clarity. The dance is always slick; and when they need to be together, they are always absolutely as one.
Even Donald Trump pops up, on the video during Act 2. Is he part of the Illuminati, programming gone wrong, or programming gone very right and an attempt to create chaos, or simply a naturally unpredictable face of politics? Is he a puppet? Are we all puppets? Discuss.
MK Ultra: impressive, intelligent, entertaining, but thought provoking too. Quite a mix.
MK Ultra by Rosie Kay Dance Company continues on tour. For dates and links to book tickets, visit rosiekay.co.uk, where you’ll also find details of 5 Soldiers dates, and 10 Soldiers, which premieres at the Birmingham Hippodrome in May 2019.