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A dance show about conspiracy theories and the Illuminati? Jessica Murray caught up with dancer Joao Maio to find out more…

Is the Illuminati real? Was Britney brainwashed? How do we know who and what to trust? While it’s easy to laugh off such claims, research shows that in a ‘post-truth’ society where politicians and the media regularly spread lies, younger generations are increasingly investing in conspiracy theories as the source of truth. It’s a thorny subject, but something which the Rosie Kay Dance Company has boldly chosen to tackle in their latest piece.

MK ULTRA is an exploration of the world of conspiracy theories, drawing on Illumanti imagery and ideas of mind control to create a politically relevant and subversive work of art. The name itself draws on Project MK Ultra which was carried out by the CIA in the 1950s, a controversial and often illegal experimentation into mind control tactics which could be employed during torture. It’s a story that could easily be a conspiracy theory, but this actually did happen.   

Joao Maio, one of the dancers taking part in the ground breaking piece, explained the concept behind the show to me. “These days, young people especially, don’t really believe in politics or religion, so they look up to pop stars and celebrities. Are these people being brainwashed? Are they selling a lifestyle? Are they selling something to us that is not genuine, controlled by someone profiting from this?”

‘These days, young people especially, don’t really believe in politics or religion, so they look up to pop stars and celebrities. Are these people being brainwashed?’

Joao trained to be a dancer back in Portugal, before moving across to the Northern School of Contemporary dance, and has been working with the Rosie Kay Dance Company for two years now. He openly admits that he was one of those drawn in by conspiracy theories and the show has led him to view the world through an ‘MK ULTRA filter’. “I’m one of the youngest people in the work, and I remember even when I auditioned I was so into conspiracy theories. It’s part of our generation.”

In the show, Joao and his fellow dancers perform as their superstar alter egos, which they have been developing for months – they even have their own Instagram accounts. It’s a performance deliberately saturated in the technology and youth culture of today. Alongside the dancing, award winning BBC filmmaker Adam Curtis (Hypernormalisation) has created a series of short films to help explain the complex subjects at play here.

This isn’t to distract from the dance, however, which portrays the concepts just as well. Joao explains how the conspiracy theories through the medium, taking inspiration from modern pop videos “In pop music there is quite a lot of imagery, the hyper sexualised, glamourisation of anarchy and rebellion, and the glamourising of military and obedience. There’s also a lot of illuminati symbolism in pop music videos, the triangle and the Eye of Horus for example.”

Joao assures me the piece is the kind of work that will appeal to the younger generation specifically, and the kind of people who may not necessarily attend contemporary dance shows regularly. “I think some contemporary dance shows can leave you a bit by yourself, on your seat, trying to understand what’s going on. But MK ULTRA, especially using Adam Curtis’ films, really engages the audience from beginning to end. That is why it has been so effective with different types of audiences, and not necessarily dance audiences.”

For a dose of contemporary dance tackling some very contemporary issues, head to the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre Tuesday 9th May.

Jessica Murray

(Image courtesy of MK Ultra)

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