People who wonder where creative types find the ideas they transform into works of art might be surprised to learn that the sources of inspiration are often profoundly mundane.
"I'm doing a piece that's based on the idea of northern light," choreographer Jamey Hampton said. "It came because I was remodeling my house."
Hampton was one of four dance makers engaged for the Pacifica Choreographic Project '98, a highly regarded program established in 1991 by Irvine's Ballet Pacifica to cultivate American choreographers.
Every summer, the troupe invites choreographers from around the nation to create dances with its members. Each choreographer gets two weeks' rehearsal before the company performs the works in progress, which it will do this year on Saturday at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.
Hampton's piece, "As Is, Is Us," will share the bill with premieres by Robin Stiehm of Minnesota, Raymond Van Mason of Utah and Douglas Becker, who is based in Belgium.
Portland native Hampton, 43, came to dance relatively late in life at Connecticut's Dartmouth College. A skier and football player, he took a dance class for jocks with Alison Chase, who shortly thereafter, in 1971, co-founded Pilobolus Dance Theatre with some of those same athletes.
The group, whose members seemed to connect like intricate human jungle gyms and pulsate like organisms, won immediate success. A few years later, Hampton joined up, later going to Momix, a Pilobolus offshoot known for its whimsical props, before co-founding ISO Dance Theatre in 1987.
Last year, Hampton started another small movement theater troupe, Bodyvox (referring to the "voice" of the body), back home in Oregon with dancer Ashley Roland, his wife.
"We found dancers in Portland who were really good," he said. "They are all ballet trained, but they're all looking for something different."
Hampton also has choreographed for rock videos and such groups as Oregon Ballet Theatre and the Geneva Opera Ballet. In 1997, he crafted movement for the Portland Opera's "Carmina Burana," which he will perform locally with Bodyvox in Opera Pacific's February production.
He leaped at the chance to apply for Ballet Pacifica's choreographic project, Hampton said during a recent interview at the Irvine company's academy.
"There are so few opportunities like this," he said. "And you're given so much: You're given dancers; you're given a studio; they put you up, and they don't say, 'We need a piece on pointe,' or 'We need a piece to the Beach Boys because that'll sell.' They don't say anything."
Hampton's new septet will be danced in soft-soled shoes to the techno sounds, from pummeling to cloud-like, of Aphex Twin. The work's concept, he said, came flooding in while chatting with spouse Roland about skylights and whether to install their home's windows facing north or south.
"We were in the car, and we just said, 'Northern light.' And I thought, northern light, that's a really interesting idea; it's really evocative."
Free-association journaling came next, Hampton said, throwing open the scribble-filled notebook he used to collect his thoughts.
"I wrote certain words like 'ambient, dark and vague, cold, electric, cumulative, mysterious, romantic, comforting, chaotic, mean, deprived, magic, protective, soothing, colorful, indirect, magnetic, cover-up, spiritual and collusive.' "
Fully developed thoughts followed.
"If you go far north into Iceland or Alaska in the winter, when the days are three hours long, everybody sleeps a lot, and they get really drunk and mean. Conversely, in the summertime, there's 22 hours of daylight, and people stay up and everything's pretty amazing and glorious. Not all of that makes it into the piece, but it was a place to start, and the movement [became] a kind of personification of those different concepts or ideas."
Testing new moves for the dance, the lanky, muscular Hampton seemed to grow from shape to shape like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. He describes his style as organic; Pilobolus, which takes its name from a macroscopic fungus or mushroom, has clearly left its mark.
Working with Ballet Pacifica dancers has had an impact too, he said. The process goes slower. He may have to demonstrate a step 10 times, not once. He has a unique way of moving, and so do they.
"I'm inspired," he said, "I'm doing things with them that I wouldn't necessarily do on Bodyvox."
It's not imperative, he said, that the piece be selected for Ballet Pacifica's repertory, as two usually are each year. The experience alone is worthwhile.
"I'm not into cloistering myself in the studio with my dancers," Hampton said. "I'm hungry; I want to know about dance; I want to learn about it; I want to put what I have to offer out there and learn what other people are doing. It's such an ethereal art form that it's really important to communicate--and not just about selling tickets and getting the show up and running and getting grants."
* Ballet Pacifica will perform new works by Jamey Hampton, Robin Stiehm, Raymond Van Mason and Douglas Becker at 8 p.m. on Saturday at South Coast Repertory, 650 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $8.50. (949) 851-9930.