PRINT September 2008


The filmmaker and video artist Charles Atlas has been working at the intersections of art, music, performance, and contemporary dance for over thirty years. Recently celebrated for his biographical documentaries on past collaborators such as Merce Cunningham and Leigh Bowery, he has also created several films and videos featuring Michael Clark, including Hail the New Puritan (1985–86) and Because We Must (1989). He continues to act as lighting director for Clark’s dance productions. Here he discusses his work with dance, and with Clark in particular.

Charles Atlas, Hail the New Puritan, 1985–86, still from a color film in 16 mm transferred to video, 84 minutes 47 seconds. Still courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

I worked with Merce Cunningham from 1974 to 1983. I had done films before working with Merce—some great films. But my first actual video was with Merce. I was hired as an assistant stage manager and I was thrilled at the opportunity because I just loved him; all I really liked in dance at that time was Merce. I was just a kid and terrified of him at the beginning, and I was in awe of all these people—John Cage and Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. But he was great to work with—the best collaborator. There was total freedom and at the same time respect for each other’s work. I realized that I’d started at the top.

My time with Merce overlapped with the projects I did with Karole Armitage (for a time, one of his lead dancers), whom I began to work with in 1981. We met Michael [Clark] at about the same time—I don’t know when exactly it was. The chronology is very hard to fix; I doubt

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