MK ULTRA is a new breed of show. Dancers in tight bodysuits perform a routine that, as choreographer Rosie Kay puts it, stretches the human body “to the Nth degree”.
The psychedelic bodysuits dance in a flood of light on a shiny square lit from behind by an infuriating triangular screen, designed to mimic the illuminati’s famous pyramid-with-an-eye as visible on the US dollar. The show is billed as a collaboration between Rosie Kay and company and the BBC documentarist Adam Curtis. Curtis’ work, such as HyperNormalization and Century of The Self, is known for its deep dives into recent history, tracing phenomena from humble origins to world-defining movements. Curtis documentaries often border on conspiratorial, but he has never embraced an unproven conspiracy theory.
Thus it is in this show that the dance and the animations playing behind show the history of a true story- MK Ultra, a US government project which experimented with mind control through drugs, therapy and more, and the wider conspiracy theory known as the illuminati begun by a group of pranksters almost a century ago with a false letter in a newspaper. The truth and the falsity combine to construct a grand narrative.
Yet in all this there is humour to be found. Fellow Sprouter Declan came to see the show with me, and he laughed repeatedly at the choice of music. Whether it was Disney or Britney Spears being repeatedly remixed, it all worked- Britney Spears herself, the conspiracy goes, having been adbucted into the MK Ultra programme as a child.
I was a little disappointed that act two didn’t feature more of Curtis, but I suspect the dancers had to keep dancing or their bodies might break if they stopped for even half a second.
Watching the show is much like losing oneself in Vaporwave/ OutRun type music, if you’ve ever listened to that. Often I like to zone out at my computer at home; do something that doesn’t take much concentration, like playing Minecraft for example, and stick on the below Spotify playlist, and just burn hours up, like a Quattro on a long desert road. This show was a similar mind-lifting experience, but in a theatre.
It is on again tonight at the Sherman Theatre and I recommend watching it. Use the code MKULTRA5 to get in for £5.