In the early 1970s, a twenty-something Charles Atlas went to work as an assistant stage manager for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Before long, the two began what would become an ongoing collaboration making films and videos. Atlas coined their new way of working as “media dance,” where a choreographer creates dances specifically for film or video.
After Cunningham’s death in 2009, Atlas revisited his earliest films of the dancer. These Super 8 close-up images were typically shot during a break from rehearsals and recorded Cunningham’s unique style of movement, cataloguing an elbow, an ankle, a wrist, and so on. This intuitive, fragmented portraiture resulted in the installation Joints 4tet for Ensemble, and articulates Cunningham’s form and gesture in connection and disconnection. Ambient sounds by John Cage, Cunningham’s longtime companion and collaborator, accompany the captured movements.
Atlas’s “pictographs” of Cunningham on film, then transferred to video, read as artifacts, even found objects. The antiquated monitors perched atop gawky black stands become primitive stick figures in space, inhabiting the room. It is perhaps this overlay of sequence and time, lyrical and awkward simultaneously, in and out of sync, that is most poignant.
Atlas’s casual recordings and observations offer a personal and authentic remembrance of Cunningham, culturally significant and poetic in their effortlessness and unaffectedness.
Charles Atlas has been an innovator in new media since the 1970s, combining dance and performance with film and video. Over his extensive career, he has collaborated with leading figures in the arts including Marina Abromovic, Antony and the Johnsons, Leigh Bowery, Michael Clark, Douglas Dunn, DANCENOISE, John Kelly, Yvonne Rainer, and most recently Mika Tajima and the New Humans.
Joints 4tet for Ensemble was exhibited at the New Museum, NYC in 2011 and is exhibited at the U-M Institute for the Humanities courtesy of Vilma Gold, London.