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gallery installation of 5 screens with videos of dance projected
gallery installation of 5 screens with videos of dance projected

Charles Atlas, A Prune Twin, 2020. Eight-channel video installation (4 monitors, sound). Installation view at Luhring Augustine, New York, 2023. Photo by John Berens

When Charles Atlas quit as filmmaker-in-residence at the influential Merce Cunningham Dance Company, in 1983, after more than a decade, he decided to embrace a younger generation, a different continent, and a more public medium. These changes coalesced around the Pandean figure of Michael Clark, a former prodigy of London’s Royal Ballet School who in 1984 began to sketch out a punk- and club-inspired choreography with his own newly founded dance company. That same year, Atlas produced two works of videodance—a genre of experimental dance film, popularized by Atlas and Cunningham, in which choreography is designed for the camera rather than the stage.

These two films, Parafango (1984) and Ex-Romance (1984/1987), feature performances by Clark, Philippe Decouflé, and former Cunningham dancer Karole Armitage. They are set in vernacular places such as airport lounges and gas stations, and are spliced with news footage, presenter commentary, and video transmission signals. Both spotlight Clark as the enfant terrible of London’s post-punk underground, and the combination of his fauvist choreography with Atlas’s camp visuals captured a Baroque aesthetic that would characterize its queer subculture throughout the decade.

A Prune Twin, originally commissioned by London's Barbican in 2020, consists of a multi-channel video projection sourced from the filmmaker and the dancer’s two most important collaborations of this era: Hail the New Puritan (1986) and its unofficial sequel Because We Must (1989), both originally commissioned for television by Britain’s Channel 4. Conceived as a New Pop equivalent to A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Puritan followed Clark through a “typical” twenty-four hours of rehearsal, press, errands, and general debauchery and featured many of his friends and frequent collaborators—Mark E. Smith, Brix Smith, Les Child, Cerith Wyn Evans, Leigh Bowery, and Trojan among them. The more amorphous Because We Must focuses on a series of Clark’s onstage divertissements at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theater and uses them as a springboard to the dancer’s backstage fantasies. Reimagined three decades later, “A Prune Twin” is as an exciting, anagrammatic exercise in form—as alluded to by its title, an anagram of “New Puritan”—that remixes both TV documentaries into an immersive, highly choreographed installation.

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