MK Ultra

Home Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 3rd May 2017.


MK ULTRA pic 4 - credit Brian Slater
Image credit: Brian Slater


If you’re confident that, right now, no one else is looking at your screen, do a Google search for “MK Ultra”.

What you’ll find is rather quite disturbing. It seems that the American government was up to no good back in the 1950s, devising hideous methods of mind control in order to overpower and subjugate ordinary people. Most disturbing of all is the fact that it really did happen, no one out there is even trying to blame it on some unhinged conspiracy theorists, it all just seems to be casually accepted as a genuine historical fact.

Director and choreographer Rosie Kay spent three years studying this dangerous subject and, as a result, she too is now brainwashed – though she may not know it, and is likely to deny it. Despite her affliction, Kay has somehow transformed this dark and disturbing subject matter into a refreshing 90-minute performance that skilfully combines modern dance with digital art and video.

It was almost inevitable that Kay – like any other student of mind-control and government misbehaviour – would eventually seek the input of esteemed conspiracy-smasher Adam Curtis. Or maybe he found her??

Adam Curtis is a terrifying man. Credit where it’s due though: his 2004 documentary The Power of Nightmares is one of the greatest pieces of television ever made – explaining with frightening simplicity how a terrorist who flies a plane into a building and a president who orders bombs to be dropped on foreign lands are in fact players in the same game, and on the same side.

Curtis is really terrifying, just the sound of his voice alone is, in itself, a form of mind control – one which governments would dearly love to harness for their own nefarious benefits, if they weren’t so scared of him.

Kay’s carefully choreographed performance begins with a video display: it’s classic Adam Curtis – pretty, arty shots of seemingly unconnected stuff, but with an uncomfortably sinister soundtrack that hints of some alarming danger.

Then he speaks: unleashing his vocal weaponry. He wastes no time in humiliating the audience by explaining away large parts of their existence which they had hitherto held to be sacred. He dares to attack the likes of popular musical princess Britney Spears, outrageously suggesting that she may be nothing more than an instrument of the nefarious Illuminati and their vile brainwashing methods. But this is Adam Curtis, the firm authority with which he utters his words leaves everyone pondering for far longer than they should: could it really be true?

With the scene set, Curtis’ voice disappears and Kay’s vibrant dancers (also presumably brainwashed) enter the stage. And so begins the brainwashing of the audience. The dancers in their cat suits adorned with mystical imagery prowl around the stage, twerking and twisting elegantly, seemingly not making any immediate sense. But the energetic writhing grants a welcome relief from the memory of Curtis’ alarming suggestions in his introduction.

The musical backing for the dancers is outstandingly good, some very high quality mixing of well known classics by the likes of Chaka Khan and Michael Jackson (brainwashed also??) In fact, it’s not too far away from being good enough to create a trance music compilation, and a trance is pretty close to what the full performance spectacle induced.

Curtis and his videos make several brief re-appearances during the performance, each time he adds fuel to the fire with yet more outrageous insinuations that we, the young people of today, are gullible and naive and can be persuaded to believe anything.

In the end the super-high-energy dancers find their peace, and the trance music slowly subsides. The walk home is hurried, collars turned up and eyes gazing downwards to avoid the glances of strangers, deep discussions ensue about the meaning of it all, whether it could be true, whether we truly are as free as we think we are?

The answer is frustrating: it is impossible for anyone to either prove or disprove the existence of a mind-controlling global elite who seek to feed off our freedom. But then, for one night at least, Kay and Curtis have done exactly that, exerting their mind control by delivering an outstanding piece of theatrical performance.

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