Make no mistake, though: you need to read the very extensive programme notes, so from that point of view, this piece is hard work; and at any given time there is so much going on on stage that sensory overload sets the tone.
MK Ultra takes its name from the real CIA LSD-fuelled mind-control experiments of the 1950s and 60s, which provide a starting point for its exploration of the rise of widespread conspiracy theories, currently believed by millions of people and spreading like wildfire on the internet. In one of its most bizarre variations, a conspiracy theory has it that the CIA teamed up with Walt Disney to programme actors and singers, so they could spread occult messages to the wider population.
Adam Curtis, whose documentaries (The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares) focus on power and how it works in society, contributes an episodic film voiced by himself, which blends cabalistic images with footage drawn from pop culture, including Disney cartoons and pop stars such as Britney Spears and Justin Bieber.
Curtis’ film is projected onto a large triangular screen at the back of the stage – triangles are an important part of esoteric symbology, as is the disquieting all-seeing eye which appears on the screen at regular intervals.
Kay references the importance of certain numbers in occult lore by placing her dancers in groups of seven or three.
Kay’s high octane choreography turns dance into ritual, the dancers of her Rosie Kay Company alternating between contemporary pop – much of it straight out of pop videos – and imagery that references one of the most widespread conspiracy theories: that the world is really controlled by a centuries-old occult order, The Illuminati (familiar to fans of Dan Brown's novels).
All this to a pulsating electronic score by Annie Mahtani, who provided the score for Rosie Kay’s critically acclaimed 2016 work 5 Soldiers, with arresting triangular projections by Louis Price and costumes by Lady Gaga designer Gary Card.
Card’s costumes are a performance in themselves. Unisex unitards in bright colours, they are covered in detailed and intricate symbols, including triangles, chains, the omniscient eye, pyramids and carefully placed hands.
Rosie Kay’s MK Ultra is heavy on concept and visual stimuli and it’s not clear that without the extensive programme notes her intentions would communicate themselves coherently to the audience. Still, as a visual spectacle MK Ultra is at times rather dazzling – and Kay’s seven dancers are a pleasure to watch.
|What||Rosie Kay Dance Company, MK Ultra Review|
|Where||Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
On 08 Nov 18, 19:30 Dur.: 2 hours approx
|Price||£20 (concessions available)|
|Website||Click here to book via the Southbank website|