A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

A scene from "NESTING" by Robbie Shaw and Stephanie Nugent

It’s become apparent in the last decade that for the arts to grow and prosper in the age of new immediacy and tech, the audience needs to be part of the creative process. Whether they are voting people on or off competitive performance shows, or making a song or video go viral, with the click of their fingers audiences now choose who gets to be seen. Well, innovative local dance maker and producer Kingsley Irons joined with filmmaker Bryan Koch a year ago to take this one step further by asking audiences to also choose what the artists make. They co-founded Dances Made to Order, where the dances are dance films/videos: short, experimental pieces that grow out of a collaboration between a choreographer and a filmmaker to be seen on screen, not on stage. The series is billed as a “monthly dose of cool, cheap and convenient culture.”

Every month, DMTO features three films created by artists who have accepted the assignment to create a five-minute film in two weeks inspired by ideas chosen by subscribers, who then buy a year of viewing or a month a la carte. The series has been running for about a year with a diverse collection of dancers and filmmakers who come from contemporary, modern, hip-hop, Afro-Latin, belly dance and classical Indonesian styles, to name a few.

The February group included LA dance film artists Hassan Christopher and Marissa Labog, Carmela Hermann and Ally Voye, and Robbie Shaw and Stephanie Nugent, who all spent the month of January collaborating around the ideas of “a film within a film,”  “sugary/salty” and “would you be better off if you hadn’t….”

All these artists have made dance films that have been shown at festivals, so they know their way around a choreographic camera. But how do they take the ideas of others, especially such a list of ideas, and make them into a film?

Each artist interpreted these ideas in a new way and came up with three films which premiered on Feb. 8 and can be seen until March. In “Hey Sugar” by Hassan Christopher, Christopher and Labog stay close to home with a bowl of (salty) popcorn as two lovers battling unseen forces to keep the flame alive. “Orange Thursday” by Carmela Hermann and Ally Voye takes a playful, almost noir-like view of sugar with a piece designed around delicious-looking donuts that only become destructive when in extremes, as they focus on a woman who moves inside a world of high heels, low falls, rolling, crushing, standing, crawling and crumbling. In “NESTING” by Robbie Shaw and Stephanie Nugent, a pregnant woman slips between insecurity and serenity with compulsive nesting rituals of eating, arranging furniture and weaving. Shaw and Nugent meld a mania and a simplicity within which Nugent created an ultra ego that is bird-like and calm, amidst the mounting neurosis and panic that comes when a woman is pregnant.

Filmmaker Robbie Shaw, who collaborated with Nugent, wanted to be part of the DMTO process because she likes the spontaneous collaboration that it offers. The freedom to just make stuff without a long, production process allowed for a low-fi aesthetic and the instant gratification of an audience, without the long road to the festival world. When she and Nugent were given the assignment, they saw the concepts as a loose structure that they could incorporate already gestating ideas into.

The business model for the series attempts to help these artists make work and income. Curator and DMTO Artistic Director Kingsley Irons said, “We firmly believe talented artists should be compensated for their work, and that we need to find new ways of funding the arts. Dances Made to Order not only provides a global distribution platform for dance film, we also share our profits: 65 percent of our ticket revenue goes back to our artists; an additional 10 percent goes to each of our curatorial partners.”

The series is curated, the founders say, to create an “alternative to the deluge of un-curated video content on the internet.” DMTO wants to help build the dance-film genre by providing inspiration, structure, deadline and a community and by creating the awareness that an interesting and beautiful film is not about spending thousands of dollars, but about thoughtfulness and resourcefulness.

The 2012 season will grow to become a national showcase for American dance with local artists and arts organizations in 11 U.S. cities selecting artists that highlight their city’s unique dance culture. There is a New York City installment just starting now.

—Kelly Hargraves, Culture Spot LA

Tickets can be purchased for a season ($50) or single month ($10) at www.dancesmadetoorder.com.