“‘Fake News’ and ‘Alternative Facts’ have become the news, and the fragile balance of trust between truth, the news, our leaders and the media has been fractured,” writes Rosie Kay, award-winning choreographer about her latest show MK Ultra, that looks at the idea of conspiracy theories in pop culture through powerfully hypnotic dance.
Established in 2014, Rosie Kay’s dance company explore a diverse range of dynamic dance. Rosie’s latest piece is a contemporary show that centres around the modern idea of the media and how it consumes us. ” I actually wanted to do something about politics,” Rosie explained. “So I started looking at surveillance, which got me looking at the way the government are using surveillance, which got me into conspiracy theories.”
Turning her head to dance at a young age, Rosie described herself as being able to ‘dance before she could talk.’ “If I don’t understand things, I go away and dance, to figure out through dance what I am thinking in a weird way,” she explained. “Dancing is essential to living really, I really didn’t think you could do it as a job, none of my friends or family or anything are artists, but I went to an audition when I was about 16 with a friend and we both got into dance school. That is when I discovered contemporary dance, which mixes the music, the art, the history and politics all in one art form and I am still amazed.”
Usually Rosie is particularly hands on with her research, and experiments with choreography to shape the ideas around the piece. However, during the rehearsals for MK Ultra, she was pregnant, “I had to do a lot with my iPad,” she said. “But it gave me the opportunity to dig and dig, and go further and further. I did lots of research in Oxford, and I was really intrigued by how the hierarchy and institutions knew that things were changing, but the methods in which they were communicating were very much trying to tell us what to believe.”
“It wasn’t until I stumbled across this whole ‘Illuminati’, and the idea that the people in the music business and the entertainment business are puppets that have been brainwashed to create this elite illuminati agenda, that I realised the potential of this idea.
‘It is all so theatrical, and I wanted to take something that was really enormous and political, and use the body to explore that.”
Once Rosie had decided upon this ambitious idea, she was fascinated in how widespread these conspiracy theories are. So she did workshops with young people across the Midlands. “I’d go in and talk about media representation, and I’d just wait and see what happened.” she said. “When the magic illuminati word came up – the room would always erupt.” Surprised by the reaction, Rosie explained that the kids knew so much, in such a level of detail.
Rosie did a considerable amount of research, and was surprised by the results, she explained: “There were two different types of people; people who knew what I was on about and people over 25, that just were looking at me like I was bonkers. That really intrigues me that there is this gap in knowledge, and gap in reality between young people who are questioning everything and have this distrust of any mainstream media. Then there are the over 25s, who I guess are a bit cynical and not tapped into the level of conspiracy theory that is going on.”
When asking Rosie’s take on the whole illuminati theory, she told me “It’s funny because I was very much like ‘It is just a piece of dance, I don’t care, this is the background but really I want to make this crazy crazy piece of dance.’ Until I went to meet expert Adam Curtis, and we took what we know is real and weaved it all together to create our version of the conspiracy theory. So he and I worked super close on that, because he said he is more journalistic and I am much more abstract, but actually we are both quite interrogative about what we want to say in this piece of theatre.”
Rosie has danced all styles, from hip-hop to modern, contemporary and ballet but this show is a piece of visionary choreography. “I wanted to mash all these styles together, and I discovered that it is in my body,” Rosie said. “So it is a mix of krumping, twerking, contemporary and all sorts.” She spent a solid week in December heavily improvising each section of the show, and filmed three or four versions of each improvisation. Then the dancers learnt it and the show came together rather nicely.
“It is a really bizarre way of working, but I am almost brainwashing them. They have to dance my dances, so it has that conceptual framework there already.”
Lady Gaga’s costume designer Gary Card has designed the costumes for the show, as his cutting-edge style enhances the piece with bold costumes. “I’ve known Gary for a long time,” said Rosie. “The costumes are beautiful and amazing, but they are also quite simple too, as we want a lot of it to come out through the dance and the language of it.’
Opening her UK tour in Birmingham at the Birmingham Rep, Rosie describes herself as an ‘adopted Brummy.’ “I came for a job and ended up staying here,” Rosie explained. “I think it is a really great place to be an artist. When I lived and worked in London it was just too much, too much all the time, whereas here I can feel like I can focus and really carve my own path and create my own universe.
Enter the world of illuminati symbolism in pop culture through high-energy and super charged dance, music and imagery when MK Ultra opens at the Birmingham Rep on the 17th of March, and then continues on a UK tour.