Photography: Brian Slater

MK Ultra, Rosie Kay Dance Company

LEAP @ Capstone Theatre 10/11/18

Does the career of Britney Spears have a darker origin than most of us imagine? From the 50s to the 70s, the US government illegally experimented with mind control techniques. According to conspiracists, this never came to an end – in fact it was used to turn Britney from innocent teen to global ambassador for the Illuminati. So it goes.

Sound bizarre? This (mostly) true tale is the story of and inspiration for MK ULTRA, being performed as part of LEAP Dance Festival. The story of a star’s meteoric rise to fame and universal adoration, followed by a catastrophic downfall.

The constant sense of paranoia and deep machination that pervades MK Ultra feels fitting in our era, and it’s a smart and fitting choice to start the show with a film narrated by Adam Curtis. Known for his documentaries exploring the complex webs behind the structures of power, his presence brings us instantly into a world where what we see is only the beginning, the surface, of the story. A sense which is exacerbated by the background videos, giving us contexts from pastoral bliss to psychedelic chaotic nightmares.

The dancing is electrifying. Performing to Annie Mahtani’s exuberant and high-energy score, you marvel at the pinpoint accuracy. Every movement is hit. Narrative and emotions are wordlessly, seemingly effortlessly, conveyed with perfect clarity. Whether it’s down to a desire for control or desire for adulation, there’s a fierce lustfulness pervading every action, every character. Yet in the midst of this insanity is momentary flashes of vulnerability – particularly from Carina Howard as the ill-fated starlet – perfectly judged to show the human behind the conspiracy.

The show ends the only way it could – with our star, reprogrammed, entranced by the strains of the Disney song When You Wish Upon A Star. Unable to escape the conspiracy, she is rejuvenated to play her part in achieving a new status quo. If the world of MK Ultra is one of madness, it’s an insanity which is nevertheless recognisable.

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