A New Order in How Dances are Made

Kingsley Irons and Bryan Koch have turned the traditional dance festival on its head.


photo of Claudia Anata Hubiak by Summer Wilson


Inspired by our desperate needs to find fresh audience members and create exposure for dance artists nationally, Dances Made To Order's success, like anything else, is largely the result of sheer grit and fiercely inspired artists at the helm. That, and some really serendipitous timing.


Here's how it works (stay with me, here):  DMTO picks curators from cities all over the country.  Those curators pick three (somewhat established) artists in their cities to create dance films.  Audience members vote online for the subject matter around which the artists will create their films.  Two weeks later, the films are published online, and viewed through paid subscriptions and monthly passes.


It all happens online, and it happens every month.  What I found most surprising, and impressive, about Dances Made To Order is that it's run by only two people.  Kingsley Irons and Bryan Koch have their hands full, for sure, but Irons admits that they couldn't get it all done without the national curators they work with.

"This is pretty major," she says.  "I want to make sure that it's not just my perspective that is on the series, but that we show the breadth and depth of the work out there in the dance world."


With the tagline "The ONLY monthly, online dance film festival challenging artists to create unique dance films in just two weeks inspired by ideas you choose," Dances Made To Order is moving at a ferocious pace, with each monthly premiere of dance films immediately followed by a week of voting on the subject for the next city, immediately followed by the premiere of that city.  Up right now, voting for San Francisco is on the heels of the Philadelphia premiere. 


I chatted with Atalee Judy about her experience working on the Chicago edition, and her biggest challenge was the turnaround time.  The artists don't know their subject until the online audience votes, and from then they have two weeks to get the finished product out.  While Irons and Koch seem to thrive under the intense pace (after all, they designed the series), making a dance film requires a lot of components and resources that can take time to put in place, especially when trying to create champagne film on a beer budget.  The artists are promised 65% of the revenue from online subscriptions, and they do eventually see it, but it takes a couple of months.


What DMTO might be lacking in overhead is, to a certain extent, made up for by the passion and enthusiasm with which they tackle this immense project.  There are a lot of moving parts, that, from my perspective, appear well-managed given the polished products churned out every month.  In true, artist-y spirit, Irons sees success in the process, and DMTO tackles big ideas and problems she sees in the dance community through a model that is, admittedly, brand spankin' new.  That's not something a lot of people are willing to take on.



"Every aspect of this is a success for me because everything we do is an expression of artistry and bravery."



Just like anything else in dance, Dances Made To Order has momentum, for now, but I'll be curious to see what happens to the model over the next couple of years.  Will cities or artists be repeated?  Will the role of the curators change?  Will the timeline change?  Meanwhile, it's a project that's worth taking a look at. Or two or three. Or once a month…



Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.