Yet no one could have guessed how quickly it would come. The odd loss of feeling in one toe that Hampton’s dancers recall him noticing during rehearsals soon spread to his calf, and no amount of workouts at the barre brought it back. A year after “Half a Life’s” premiere in 1996, Hampton was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
A few months later, the former dancer had become virtually paralyzed. He managed to choreograph just one more piece for his company by whispering moves to two dancers who met with him in his apartment. He died in 2001 at age 54.
Dancers have long memories, especially for those who brightened what can be a brief and difficult career. Neither Hampton’s teachings nor his works have been forgotten. How could they be? The programs his company performed over its eight-year existence were often laugh-out-loud funny, with a core of emotional truth. Like the best comedy, his dances turned on situations and timing, driven home with unpredictable musical panache. And his character sketches! What caricaturist Al Hirschfeld did with his pen, Hampton could do with a few gestures, a slouch, a cigar — and just the right dancer.
Hampton had danced with Netherlands Dance Theater, the Scapino Ballet and the Washington Ballet, and he was one of that company’s resident choreographers in the late 1970s. But he had no interest in self-promotion; his works are jewels known only to Washington.
That will soon change, if those closest to him have their way.
Friends and former company members have teamed up for a tribute concert, “Eric Hampton . . . With Us, Again,” on Oct. 13 and 14 at Dance Place, site of frequent Hampton programs when he was alive. The weekend also will launch the Eric Hampton Dance Foundation, whose trustees include Harriet Moncure Fellows, Hampton’s close friend and colleague. Hampton left his works in the care of Fellows, and she has overseen their occasional performances by local troupes. But to mark the 10th anniversary of his death (the anniversary was last year, but ironing out the details took time), Fellows is aiming to get his work seen nationwide.
She has tapped Elisa Clark, 33, to head that effort. A former member of the Mark Morris Dance Group and a current member of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Clark was a student of Hampton’s at Maryland Youth Ballet, where he taught for many years. She remained devoted to him during his last years, visiting when his only way to communicate was to spell out words by moving his eyes from one letter to another on a plastic board.
At Dance Place on Oct. 14, Clark will perform in “UnRavel,” Hampton’s sly ode to ballet’s courtliness, accompanied by Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin.” As the new foundation’s director of repertory, she wants to tap her wide connections to market this and other works to universities and ballet companies.