Throughout his career, Atlas has collaborated with key figures from a range of disciplines, expanding the relationships between dance, music, theater, video, fashion, and television. With the American choreographer Merce Cunningham, in the late 1970s Atlas pioneered what he called “media-dance,” in which dance is created and performed specifically for the camera rather than a live audience.
Atlas’s experimental works from the 1980s integrate fiction and documentary in uniquely stylized portraits of urban subcultures. His video Hail the New Puritan depicts a fictionalized day in the life of the Scottish dancer and choreographer Michael Clark as he and his company prepare for a performance of his 1984 work New Puritans. Atlas uses the inherently theatrical nature of dance as the departure point for an exploration of the unstable boundary between fantasy and reality, a boundary further tested by the work’s inclusion in a regular program of dance documentaries on British public television in 1986.
Combining mock interviews with footage of the company’s surreal productions, Hail the New Puritan is a vivid time capsule of Clark’s milieu at a moment when London’s fashion, clubbing, and art scenes intersected and reverberated throughout popular culture. With production design by the Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery—and a soundtrack by English post-punk band The Fall and American avant-garde musician Glenn Branca, among others—it emphasizes the creative cross-fertilization that is at the core of both Atlas’s and Clark’s work.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019).