STL dance darling visits, creates for WUDT

| Theater Editor

Watching Kameron Saunders talk, you would think he gives lessons in hand modeling. He moves his arms in wide, sweeping circles (the port de bras he says he is known for) and adds a flick of the wrist at the end. It’s not a fast movement, not violent like his own choreography, but a gentle reminder that he is always dancing.

“It’s definitely been a journey for me in that I’ve had a lot of people on my side, both as a dancer and a choreographer,” Saunders said. This week, he is Washington University’s residency in dance guest artist. The “people” Saunders talks about include every member of the Wash. U. dance faculty.

“They see a real passion, a real hunger and a real desire to be in the dance field [in me], whether that means I’m dancing, choreographing, directing or writing about dance,” Saunders said.

Saunders has performed with the Slaughter Project, Center of Creative Arts Dance and Ballet Eclectica. He has trained with Diadie Bathily, Michael Uthoff and Alicia Graf Mack, among others, in the dance faculties at Webster University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He has choreographed for the Big Muddy Dance Company, the Missouri Contemporary Ballet and now Wash. U. Saunders’ resume goes on even longer—and he just graduated from UMKC last year.

“When I started out in dance, I was much heavier…I was close to about 300 pounds. I think that in the beginning stages of my training, they saw the passion there, but because I was a heavy guy, I was often times overlooked. A lot of my interest in dance was self-driven,” he said.

The dance darling of St. Louis credits his success to his extensive research and historical knowledge of dance. Saunders would read dance books, find artists and choreographers he admired, watch hours and hours of YouTube clips and finally incorporate the ideas he liked into his own work.

“I tried to grab hold of all the things that I enjoyed doing and that I enjoyed seeing on other bodies,” Saunders explained, in order to find his “choreographic voice.”

“I like everything big and extended and dramatic. Nothing with me is ever small,” he added.

After watching Saunders’ choreography reel and other available clips on YouTube, that drama, I assure you, is real. His pieces are violent, tense and ferocious. The dancers look like they are always about to break from the choreography and rumble—until a sudden and swift stillness lulls them back into line. He admires choreographers like William Forsyth, who exaggerate the classical lines Saunders learned in books and in the classroom.

“He’ll take the long route instead of a direct line. He’ll go around in a circle and do a dive roll, and then he’s in this shape magically…it’s about the effort to get to these positions,” Forsyth said.

Saunders mimics the movements with his hands. He talks about other choreographers as if they are the dancers themselves, identifying works by their creators instead of the bodies on stage that everyone else associates with them.

Saunders describes his latest work, an untitled piece for Wash. U.’s Dance Theatre, as “high energy, high intensity.” Inspired by Robert Battle’s “The Hunt,” Saunders’ piece will open with a soft solo before plunging into a powerful, six-women ensemble.

“I want to gain the trust of the audience and then hit them with the punch, the fire, the passion,” Saunders said.

“I am enjoying every bit of this,” he said of working with Wash. U. students. “I love these dancers, their energy. They’re really hungry for it…I think I’m kind of scaring them a bit, but I love it. They’re working very hard to execute what it is I’m asking of them, whether it be the physicality of a step, whether it be being present, emotionally and physically in the space.”

Saunders believes that presence is the most important part of his choreography.

“I am gaining so much from them,” Saunders said. “That is one of the most important things of a craft like dance: to remember that, as much as you are there to learn and pick up as a student, you are also giving yourself, releasing whole-heartedly, passionately.”

Saunders’ piece will premiere at Wash. U. Dance Theatre Dec. 5-7.