MK ULTRA: Bold new dance exploring mind control and the illuminati from Rosie Kay

Birmingham Rep
March 17, 2017

Philip Preece

It’s been obvious for some time that Rosie Kay is a choreographic force to be reckoned with, and the world premiere of her new show, MK ULTRA confirms this completely. Right from the off this show is part documentary, part dance, and in whole an exploration of some unnerving suspicions about a range of conspiracy theories concerning the United States of America, run, it is claimed, by the shadowy Illuminati who’ve used the Disney company for their brainwashing of the world but especially the young.

The first half is quite frankly stunning visually and technically. Here a group of dancers explore Kay’s ideas with a rare technical virtuosity that is at times jaw-droppingly good. I must mention the costumes by the fast-rising Gary Card, who designed props and headdresses for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball tour among other things. His -clinging one pieces are the best I’ve seen in quite a while, looking as if they’ve come from some far-distant but very real future. In fact, the whole production is as clever as all get-out with the highest of high gloss finishes, high-tech extravagance throughout. The sound track alone is a work of cherry-picking and magpie-thieving art.

MK ULTRAPhoto Brian Slater
Photo Brian Slater

After the high octane first half, for me the second lost some momentum – my companion, however preferred it, revealing quite fittingly how subjective perception is. But MK ULTRA is cutting edge for certain, refreshingly intellectual, released from the burdens of the past. All new work is to some extent a work in progress so we can perhaps expect some augmenting/trimming, but as it stands this show’s chic series of tricks makes it a masterpiece from one of the genre’s experts.

Shelley Eva Haden and company in MK ULTRAPhoto Brian Slater
Shelley Eva Haden and company in MK ULTRA
Photo Brian Slater

The When You Wish Upon a Star finale references the centrality of the Disney corporation in the conspiracy theories. You can add in the Kennedy assassinations, globalisation, advertising, mind control generally, 9/11, and I guess Andy Warhol too. I’m not a great fan of author or choreographer talks usually, but here I would have been intrigued to hear Rosie Kay’s story of the creation of MK ULTRA and how far (and why) she believes in the conspiracy.

Overall this show is totally energising on every level. It’s going on a nationwide tour so catch it if you can. A fascinating, nay intriguing evening. Watch out, Rosie Kay is the biz.

MK ULTRA continues on tour. For dates and venues, visit

For more about the creation of MK ULTRA, read our feature with Rosie Kay.