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chaignaud-bengolea-twerk Charles Atlas
Photo by Jean Marie Legros

Charles Atlas's whirls on films

Find out more about the filmmaker and his new show at the Tate Modern

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Video artist Charles Atlas knows more about filming dance than anyone, but he’s still trying not to mess it up. Here's more about what to expect from his Tate Modern Tanks residency.

Who is he?

Not the American bodybuilder who was partial to a pair of leopard-print kecks, but the American filmmaker who collaborated with the late legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham for 40 years. He’s also worked with Michael Clark and, more recently, with singer Antony Hegarty on the documentary ‘Turning’.

Why should I care?

No other filmmaker has been quite so dedicated to dance. In the ’70s Atlas developed a way to counter the effect of flattening a three-dimensional art form into two dimensions by turning the camera into another moving performer on the stage. Even in his non-dance films, a sense of choreography crept into his way of working. ‘Sometimes I think of monitors and screens as individual dancers,’ he says.

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Why are we talking about him?

Atlas is about to take up residence at Tate Modern’s Tanks, making new live performance and video works with French choreographers Cecilia Bengolea and Francois Chaignaud, and New York performance artist Johanna Constantine. You can drop into rehearsals during the day for free and watch them at work.

What are we going to see?

‘It’ll be a hoopla,’ says Atlas. With five dancers, three cameras, six projectors and live mixing, ‘it’s the first time I’ve worked with extended high-energy dancing in a live situation,’ he says. ‘I’m trying not to make a mess of it.’ Between rehearsals you can see ‘MC9’, a nine-channel video installation featuring excerpts of Atlas’s work with Cunningham, whose genius geometry will be in stark contrast to the styles of Atlas’s new collaborators. ‘Johanna’s performance is as much about her costume and make-up as her movement. It’s quite dark and slightly on the edge of horror,’ says Atlas. ‘And Cecilia and Francois, that’s like a fun, club experience. It’s a very hip hop-voguemodern dance mix.’ Sign us up!

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