Washington University Dance Theatre Dec. 5-7

‘emBodied Language’ highlights works by Antony Tudor, Kameron Saunders and Asha Prem

Visiting dancer John Gardner leads an advanced ballet master class in the Annelise Mertz Dance Studio earlier this fall. Gardner and Amanda McKerrow worked with students to set Anthony Tudor’s “Fandango” (1963) for Washington University Dance Theatre. (Credit: Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos)

Five young women take the stage. They are playful and supportive but also focused and competitive, challenging one another and themselves.

In “Fandango” (1963), choreographer Antony Tudor (1908-87) explores the nature of friendly rivalries with elegance, energy and insight. Beginning Friday, Dec. 5, “Fandango” will be one of seven professionally choreographed works featured in “emBodied Language,” the 2014 Washington University Dance Theatre (WUDT) concert.

The annual showcase, which takes place in Edison Theatre Dec. 5-7, includes dozens of dancers, selected by audition, performing new and original choreography by visiting and faculty artists.

“The overarching theme for this season is ‘American Dream/American Nightmare,’ ” said director Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, PhD, professor of the practice in dance and director of the Ballet Program in the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences. “Each of these seven works connects with that in some way.

Visiting dancer Kameron N. Saunders (second from left) leads an advanced composition studio in the Mertz Dance Studio. Saunders’ “FURY” will be featured in Washington University Dance Theatre Dec. 5-7. (Credit: Jerry Naunheim/WUSTL Photos)

“Fandango is a delightful romp — prime Tudor,” Knoblauch-O’Neal said.

But with its Spanish setting and flair, the piece also suggests themes of cultural heritage and, by extension, immigration — as does “Thillana,” a work of classical Indian dance by adjunct instructor Asha Prem. Other works address themes of protest, community and gun violence.

“Fandango” was set for WUDT by guest artists Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, working on behalf of The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust and the Dance Notation Bureau. Both are former soloists for American Ballet Theatre and appeared in several of Tudor’s works. McKerrow was the last ballerina to work with Tudor before his death. Also on the program will be the world premiere of “FURY,” an original work by Kameron N. Saunders, a guest artist and St. Louis native who now lives in Kansas City.

“In a sense, ‘FURY’ is the flip-side to ‘Fandango,’ ” Knoblauch-O’Neal said.

If Tudor represents the best of 20th century ballet, “Kameron is the young, up-and-coming choreographer, with his own distinctive voice and message,” she said. “We’re lucky to have him.

“‘FURY’ is a wonderful piece. It’s very bold, very physical, very truthful and authentic.

“It’s not necessarily narrative, but it is definitely dramatic.”

McKerrow leading an advanced ballet master class in the Mertz Dance Studio. (Credit: Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos)

Also on the program:

“Lugeo”: Knoblauch-O’Neal choreographs a new work for nine women. Set to Albinoni’s “Adagio in G minor,” the piece explores themes of grief, mourning, despair and perseverance as both individual and shared phenomena.

“Strangely Unfamiliar”: Set to music of the French band Air and Lindsey Stirling, this work by Mary-Jean Cowell, PhD, associate professor and coordinator of the Dance Program, challenges dancers to base their movements on written prompts, sparking unpredictable sequences and juxtapositions.

“For the Fame”: This large-scale work for 10 dancers, by David Marchant, professor of the practice in dance, offers “a theatrically satirical interrogation of the apparent American appetite for gun violence as entertainment.”

“Where the Buffalo Roam”: Cecil Slaughter, professor of practice in dance and director of The Slaughter Project, explores a handful of contemporary social issues, from patriotism and protest to immigration and the Obama presidency.

Students perform “FURY” by Kameron Saunders. (Credit: Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photos)

Performances of “emBodied Language” will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5 and 6, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7.

Tickets are $15, or $10 for students, senior citizens and Washington University faculty and staff, and are available through the Edison Box Office, 314-935-6543. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd.

“emBodied Language” is sponsored by the Performing Arts Department. Saunders’ residency was supported with additional funding from the Office of the Provost. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit the new WUDT website.

Students perform “Where the Buffalo Roam” by Cecil Slaughter. (Credit: Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photos)