Ever feel like muttering "huh?" during some abstruse modern dance performance? Deborah Brockus has. She's even choreographed an ode to the obscure.
"It's my satire on inaccessible art--my piece about all the bad shows I've seen in the past 10 years," says Brockus, whose troupe performs at the Orange County High School for the Arts in Los Alamitos this weekend.
"Huh--The Odyssey" is done in a deadpan sort of way. "But it's definitely comical, and we do it very quickly," quipped the choreographer, who also dances with the company. "Unfortunately, the (bad) concerts I've been to took hours."
The 12-member Brockus Project Dance Company will perform a mixed bill. Brockus teaches jazz dance at the school and heads the dance sequence of its musical theater department.
Her hybrid movement style blends jazz, modern dance and ballet, she said during a recent phone interview from her Huntington Beach home, and her creative philosophy eschews the approach that "Huh" lampoons.
"The era I trained in," said Brockus, 32, "was one in which choreographers were just beginning to break away from the nothingness in dance--the abstract, the no-emotion, pedestrian movement.
"I have non-narrative works that invoke a mood or feeling," she continued, "but I never create pieces that are completely abstract, and my choreography always has a human element to it, and a very technical, dancing manner. When you do the style I've inherited, it feels like flying, it feels awesome, and when the dancer feels that, it transmits to the audience."
"Still Waters," to music of jazz singer Dianne Reeves, is one premiere the Brockus troupe will be transmitting to the audience. A symbolic treatment of the old saw, still waters run deep, it "celebrates women," including herself, "and the quiet strength women have," Brockus said.
The idea for the piece arose after Brockus was looking at media photographs of Bosnia and other war-torn regions, "and seeing women standing there, very strong, in the midst of all the horrors going on around them."
"It's not a feminist piece; it's not aggressive or anti-anything, it's just about 'This is who I am, and I'm proud of it.' It sounds funny to everybody who knows me, but only in the last four or five months have I started to think of myself as an artist."
Also new are the two final movements of "Four Corners Suite." Danced to music by Copland, Ferde Grofe and Dvorak, this work was inspired by the geographic splendor of Four Corners, U.S.A., where the borders of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet, "the most enchanted, mystical land," Brockus said.
"Mountains" is intended to evoke the breathtaking grandeur of the Rockies, she said, and "Clouds" alludes to the beauty of the puffy whites and the life-giving as well as destructive power of rain and erosion.
Raised in Tustin, Brockus is a 1984 alumna of UC Irvine, where as an undergraduate she studied ballet primarily with Jillana, a former Balanchine ballerina. She subsequently studied modern dance, mostly with San Diego's Tim Weingard, a former Martha Graham company principal, and jazz with Jamie Rogers of Los Angeles, who danced in several Broadway shows choreographed by Jerome Robbins.
Along the way, she took choreographic workshops with Judith Jamison, former principal and now artistic director of the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, and with UCI dance professor Donald McKayle.
The workshops "taught me about the importance of detail, of nuance, expression and intent," Brockus said. ". . . I had been trained in steps and patterns and spatial designs; they took me almost to the haiku poetry level."
In 1991, after stints with such small troupes as Lula Washington's Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Theatre, Brockus founded her own company with young dancers from the arts high school and Dance Factory, a private Los Alamitos facility, where she teaches.
She has big dreams for the troupe, among them national and international touring eventually, but her immediate concern is to secure nonprofit status in order to be eligible for state and federal grants.
She also plans to move out of Orange County, where county government provides no direct financial support to arts groups, to L.A. County, which, like the vast majority of the state's counties, does.
While discouraged by a climate that she says drives out local talent, Brockus is working with others to establish an Orange County Dance Alliance. It would function as a chapter of L.A.'s Dance Resource Center and focus efforts on such objectives as audience development and educational outreach in order to strengthen the artistic scene throughout Southern California.
"The more we can put the arts into the community," she said, "the better the community is going to be in terms of people understanding each other and themselves. It's a binding thing that's very much needed; without that, the community infrastructure breaks down."
* The Brockus Project Dance Company appears Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Orange County High School of the Arts, Margaret A. Webb Performing Arts Center, 3591 Cerritos Ave., Los Alamitos. $6 to $10. (714) 962-1329 or (310) 531-8949.