Atlas' 2013 film Exchange is based on the 1978 dance piece of the same name by legendary dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham. Atlas created the newly completed film from never-before-seen footage that he shot in 1978 and that was only recently rediscovered by the Merce Cunningham Trust (MCT). The film captures a performance of Exchange by Cunningham and his company, with costumes and backdrop designed by Jasper Johns and music by David Tudor.
Cunningham's Exchange is divided into three parts. One half of the company appears in the first part, the other half appears in the second, and the entire company dances in the third. Cunningham alone dances in the entire work. Cunningham used chance operations to create the order of movements for each section, and again to decide what movements would reoccur in the second and third sections. Whenever a series of movements were repeated, they would occur in a different context, in a different space and time, with different dancers. Cunningham himself remarked, "I've often been struck by the idea of recurrence, ideas, movements, inflections coming back in different guises, never the same; it's always a new space and a changed moment in time. So I decided to use it in Exchange."
Jasper Johns, another long-time collaborator of Cunningham's and the MCDC's former artistic advisor from 1967-1980, designed the moody set and striking costumes for Exchange. Johns clothed the company in a range of pollution inspired colors, all mixed and juxtaposed with grays, a palette intended to convey in his own words, "smoldering coals, covered by ash." The electronic soundtrack is by David Tudor.
The footage that comprises Atlas' film was shot at a special session on October 21, 1978 at Zellerbach Hall, University of California Berkeley, less than a month after its September 1978 premiere in New York City.
Atlas' 2013 film Exchange completes a collaboration between the two artists, who worked together closely for over four decades.
Choreography: Merce Cunningham. A Film by Charles Atlas. Music: "Weatherings," David Tudor. Design: Jasper Johns. Dancers: Karole Armitage, Louise Burns, Ellen Cornfield, Merce Cunningham, Meg Eginton, Lisa Fox, Cathy Kerr, Chris Komar, Robert Kovich, Joseph Lennon, Rob Remley, Jim Self. Director of Photography: Charles Atlas. Editing: Glen Fogel.
For Merce Cunningham Trust
Trustees: Trevor Carlson, Laura Kuhn, Patricia Lent, Allan Sperling, Robert Swinston. Executive Director: Lynn Wichern. Director of Choreography: Robert Swinston. Director of Licensing: Patricia Lent. Funding provided by the Cunningham Dance Foundation, Inc.
First Performed September 26, 1978, City Center, New York City. Filmed October 21, 1978. Zellerbach Hall, University of California, Berkeley.