Sketch out Charles Atlas’s career, and the result might look like one of his multi-stream videos: disparate projections that, taken together, create a coherent portrait. To some, the artist and filmmaker is best known for these video collages and installations, featuring digitized numbers, people in motion, and abstract or geometric figures. Others might recognize him as a public broadcasting renegade whose TV specials bucked conventions of on-air programming with propulsive dancing, drag queens, chroma key, and startling audio. Since 2003, he’s drawn attention for his experiments with live multimedia performance. As a dance writer and film and television producer, I’ve long wanted to speak with Atlas about his pioneering work in “media-dance,” or dance on camera.
For nearly fifty years, Atlas has collaborated with choreographers and dancers to create vibrant, technically rigorous dance films. He first picked up a Super 8 camera in the early 1970s while stage-managing for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and, soon after, became the company’s resident filmmaker. His early works with Cunningham involved technical challenges like filming in a mirrored studio without revealing the camera, or interspersing video monitors across a dance space. His later collaborations in London and New York City with the choreographers Karole Armitage, Michael Clark, and Douglas Dunn are often raucous and exuberant, with eclectic costumes, bright music, and playful editing. More recently, he has worked with a new generation of dancers and choreographers, including Merce Cunningham Dance Company alumni Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Reiner, New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns, and the contemporary choreographer Jodi Melnick.
Consistent across Atlas’s career is his commitment to studying bodies in motion, experimenting with new technology, and creating works that are as kinesthetic as they are aesthetically complex.
We met up at his Fourteenth-Street studio, where he’s been living and working since the early 1980s.
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