MK Ultra

MK Ultra

Birmingham Rep


WE live in an age where the world has been connected through technology, yet one that seems more separated than ever.

Facebook and Twitter are how most people gather their news and information, yet the internet allows free access and cannot be regulated, making it ripe for manipulation and abuse.

Mk Ultra is Birmingham based Rosie Kay’s new dance work that explores the past 40 years and the roots of brainwashing and conspiracy theories. Delving in the murky world of the Illuminati, together with documented military experiments into mind control, she has spent the past three years exploring the subject culminating now in the production of a highly physical and visual representation of her findings.

The choreography certainly pushes the boundaries of the human body and the technique to translate it to her performers was technical in itself.

Kay spent a week alone experimenting with moves and videoing them. These were then applied to the dancers who both learnt and developed the works until a unified piece was built. Solo pieces were also learnt from video with each individual dancer observing and virtually developing movements from improvised recorded material on laptops all with their headphones plugged in. 

It certainly all feels personal with complex experimental moves often fused with phrases from the likes of Michael Jackson and Beyoncé. These choices of well-known pop artists is no accident as the soundtrack often features sampled soundtracks of their music which are deconstructed and reworked to hip hop and street beats.

It reflects Kays thoughts on the pre-programmed antics of modern pop artists who are said to be controlled and brainwashed themselves and who are then accused of leading their followers into a world of make believe and mindless adoration.

The soundtrack created by Annie Mahtani flows from ambient effects to solid dance beats and gives many of the dance sections an organised contemporary pop video feel. Other parts sonically explore the disturbing world of medical brainwashing with repetitive glitchy sounds and often with a lone dance figure manipulated into complex shapes in the hands of the rest of company.

Connecting all of this is a continual flow of film images created by Louis Price and projected onto a large triangle which forms the main part of the set. Some parts are pure documentary with a voice over explaining the full heritage of mind manipulation, fake news etc and the effects of it all on the world. Interspersed with the video are powerful images of secret societies, the masons and even Disney. Throughout the performance dancers interact and reflect the images on the screen and  

MK Ultra works well because of the projection. Without this backdrop, the complex notions of the intertwined world of conspiracy and mind control simply would not have been as effective.

The real difficulty of separating truth from spin or even outright lies is becoming increasingly hard to do but ironically each speculation adds to more conspiracy. Is it real or is it fake?

Any conversation perpetuates the mystery and debate and so MK Ultra is actually adding to that. There’s a lot of detail to absorb but perhaps the performance was all improvised and the given details of its creation are simply made up. You will simply have to see it and make your own mind up, or will someone else be making it up for you? To 18-03-17

Jeff Grant


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