“When you say the word ‘red,’” says a dancer in choreographer Hassan Christopher’s work in progress, Whispers, “I hear ‘vermilion.’” The line could easily be a motto for Christopher, who, in his quest to pinpoint the intersections of public and private lives, looks at everyday items — a park bench, an elevator — and sees art. Christopher was in his early teens when he discovered the joy of movement in the club scene of his native Chicago, but it was at NYU’s experimental-theater wing that he learned he could mesh his love of dance and theater as well as his desire for technical mastery with the fluidity he knew from his hip-hop days. After spending time in Seattle “incubating,” he moved to L.A. — perhaps not the most obvious choice for anyone interested in dance or theater, but to Christopher, who thrives on challenge, that was the point.
Dancing with various L.A. companies (Diavolo, David Rousseve) and in videos (Britney Spears, Usher), Christopher was struck by the city’s constant comings and goings; to explore his fascination with the transient nature of L.A. life, he founded the dance-theater group the Company of Strangers (performing May 27 through 29 at Highways).
“I wanted to work with a bunch of different people,” he says, “and figure out who’s not going to be a stranger.” What’s emerged over the past year is an evolving troupe who perform Christopher’s distinctive blends of dance, music and spoken word: pieces such as Concrete Jungle, in which a couple leap over, under and around a park bench to text excerpted from an online dating service; or Whispers, based on what Christopher calls “the subtle voices that live in the heart and direct our choices.” The kind of voices that hear the word “red” and respond with “vermilion.”