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Talking Dance Film and the Digital Age with Kingsley Irons

Written by Gabrielle Nomura

A still from In Transit, a dance film created by filmmaker Adam Sekuler and choreographer Shannon Stewart for Edition 22 of Dances Made to Order, which featured Seattle-based artists. In Transit was also shown at SeattleDances’ Carnival Fundraiser on July 18.
Photo courtesy of Dances Made to Order

Gone are the days of the big screen and the small screen. Now, in an age where people can watch movies from their cell phones and a laptop computer serves as a TV, the screen, in all its shapes and sizes, has become ubiquitous.

Kingsley Irons recognizes this, and she has a vision for how dance fits in with this new media landscape. Irons, along with co-founder Bryan Koch, created Dances Made to Order, an online dance film series. Talented choreographers are hand-selected by Irons and Koch, and then, with input from online viewers, a dance is created, filmed, and put online. Viewers can subscribe to the site like an online magazine. More than half of the proceeds go directly toward the participating artists whose work is showcased. With iTunes, Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu Plus, this model isn’t really new. But, unlike these sites, Dances Made to Order, is exclusively dedicated to showing dance films and producing independent artists.

Choreographers and film artists involved in Dances Made to Order come from all over–including right here in Seattle. Filmmaker Adam Sekuler showcased his work on the site this past March. “I am a filmmaker working primarily with dance artists, but not in the field of dance cinema,” Sekuler’s bio reads on the website. “I’m interested in a visually driven hybrid film form that combines structural characteristics of narrative cinema, extracting the elements of story, replacing actors who deliver lines with dancers who create narratives by moving through space.”
It is important to Irons to have a variety of artists in the series, and the work shown represents a spectrum of dance: everything from narrative and experimental pieces, to more classical styles, ethnic dance and hip-hop. “The dance film world is not as diverse as it should be,” she said. A dancer, choreographer and director herself, Irons used to work for Sundance Film Festival–which, perhaps unsurprisingly, inspired the idea for Dances Made to Order. During her time at Sundance, she came across interesting new ideas to cultivate audiences. Then she got motivated to apply these to the dance world. “I wanted to find a way to bring focus to local dance cultures and present them on a global scale,” she said.
SeattleDances sat down with Irons to learn more about her artistic inspiration, and her vision for dance in the digital age.

SeattleDances: Why did you want to create Dances Made to Order?

Kingsley Irons: I wanted a platform that transcended time, geography and space. The Internet can do that. Not all of us can afford to travel as much as we’d like to, and so we thought of a way to bring dance film into people’s homes (as well as their computers or offices). There seems to be a lot of viewers on our site during the day. I am secretly pleased that Dances Made seems to be a work-day distraction.

I also knew that I wanted to work with artists from all over the world, and this enables me to do that. Even though I am based in Los Angeles, Dances Made has become this conduit for me. I am connected to many artists whose work I really admire. We are able to collaborate long-distance. I can be in their world. They can be in mine.

SD: What’s your artistic background?

KI:  My dance background is in salsa, Afro-Caribbean and West African. But I also make dance theater and dance film. I actually started out as a writer first and studied art history as an undergrad.

SD Shed some light on your unique journey as an artist.

KI: I started out as a writer and art historian. I would say that I am an accidental dancer. I started comparatively late, around 22 years-old. I started with salsa first and really thought of dance as just pure entertainment back then. I was part of a company that was hired for parties and events, which is very different from how I feel about dance now.  

I think dance should feel inclusive; you should care about the audience’s experience. But I also believe it should also say something. It should have conviction. Because I loved salsa, I wanted to learn more about dance history and so I found some great Afro-Caribbean classes; later, I became interested in West African dance.

SD: Why did you move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles? How did that affect your work?
KI: I moved to LA for graduate school. I went to the World Arts and Cultures department at UCLA where I entered into a very new phase of art making. I became interested in dance theater and dance film while I was there, probably because I had the opportunity to study with David Rousseve whose work I really love.

SD: How do you pick the artists for Dances Made to Order?

KI: One or two months out of the year, I curate. I select artists whose work I respect. I also pay attention to work that is accepted at other film festivals, so I know who is making dance film right now. For the other editions throughout the year, I invite guest curators. It’s important to me have other curatorial perspectives on the series. Our curators have introduced us to artists we may not have known about before. They have been really important cultural connectors.

We’ve also met artists whose work we really love through our annual En Route Dance Film Festival (where we do accept submissions) and invited them to participate in our featured series.

SD: Why is Dances Made to Order important?

KI: I thought it was important to create a platform where there was a profit-sharing model with the artists. Dance film is not easy to make. It’s a discipline that requires skill and artistry too. I feel like it is undervalued even in the dance world. It has artistic value just like a live performance.

For more information on Dances Made to Order, check out their website: