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netribution > features > interview with Stuart Hopps > page two

What happens when you have an actor, you haven't been involved in pre-production, you come in to do a scene and one or two of the actors have no rhythm?
[laughs] No rhythm? I don't think that I've ever had that misfortune. If it's a ballroom scene, you can try and put them with someone who can get them around the floor - if it's not important that two particular characters dance with each other-[laughs] That's the only way I can get around that.

If you have a problem like that with actors, do you try and teach them to dance from the ground up or do you simply look at the exact steps required by the piece and just work on that?
What I try and do with any musical is to make the warm up relate to the steps that they're actually going to be doing. You're warming the body up and introducing the dance; when it fits together the actors realise that it's been a whole plan. It seems to work for the actors that they're not going through an esoteric dance thing but actually what they're going to be doing in a couple of days time.The words, terms and ways that things work are different for actors. Actors work to words rather than counts. Rhythm, going back to your very good question; I don't think that in the time I have I could teach anyone rhythm but you have to try and help people get on top of the stuff that you give them.If there had been a problem with the lead actors -the Americans were all auditioned- I could have told Ken and it would be up to him to make a decision. I did make sure that I saw everyone before rehearsal and actors were also auditioned for singing. It would be a similar problem if anyone were tone deaf.

What do you find most inspiring about feature film choreography?
It's terrific to be asked to do a challenging thing like this. I think that when you have a director who has such a strong vision about what the thing should look like and smell like, it inspires you to match their vision.The camera is awesome in that it is for all time. Once this work is committed to celluloid it's for all time and there's something incredibly humbling and thrilling about that.I've done lots of things in my career, I've created at Covent Garden and had hit musicals, but having this work committed to celluloid is very exciting, hard work, but very exciting.When all the actors get a step right, the camera is in just the right place to capture it and it all comes together as if it were intended is fantastic, there is something immensely exciting about the take . The most thrilling day is when it's finished and you can see how the rhythm of your work fits into the rhythm of the totality. What is so unique is that there is this thing called 'the camera' which has its own life and magic.

What's been your successful feature work?
I think The Wicker Man. It was my first film, obviously I think that I know a lot more about how film works now, but when I look at it I still think that the movement was very interesting.I was very proud of Sense ans Sensibility and Much Ado About Nothing - which I did in about two hours in a car park. I rehearsed with two hundred extras and Ken said to me "how the fuck did you do it?" and I could only reply "I don't really know". This one [Loves Labours Lost] is a particularly extraordinary thing because there's so much of me in it and I've never had this much into a film before.

So this is the most stimulating film that you've worked on.
Oh yes, without a doubt it's the most challenging I've done. I thought that my debut at Covent Garden was previously and I guess that Hollywood will be the next big challenge [laughs].

In regards to your connections to the arts council, there seems to be a popular opinion that the arts have never it better in terms of funding, accessibility and opportunities for young people. To support that view?
The recent move to have funds directly available to dance and drama schools and having the schools themselves select talent, rather than local authorities who have previously been reluctant to give grants, is healthy.The recent move by the government to make funds available will, I hope, ensure that the people who come from the same background as I did are given an opportunity to study. I think that the performing arts had a really tough time under the Thatcher government and I am optimistic. If you asked whether I thought that they were doing enough, I would say no but at least it's a start.

How would you suggest that people stimulated by feature film choreography go about getting into it?
I think that you need to get a background in dance and choreography, not necessarily for the camera but you need to know what works as a concept.I do feel that if you come up through the practical side assisting is a good way in. The other way is to develop relationships with young directors at a very early stage, you can grow together and form a solid artistic relationship. A great deal is luck.

Is there anything that you would like to achieve or are yet to experience?
Well I feel like I'm just beginning, it's a peculiar thing. I know I'll soon be celebrating thirty years as a choreographer but every time I start a new job I feel as if I have never done it in my life; I think that's important. I hope that hunger stays. I'm half French, I've never worked in France, I'd love to work in France.Obviously America is a place that I've never worked and it would be extraordinary if this led to doing another musical in Hollywood.I've started directing Opera and I would like to go on with that. I haven't thought about directing films but who knows? I still feel like there's an awful lot to do; I haven't peaked.

Can you pick out a couple of films that you feel have been successful in terms of choreography?
I did like the Woody Allen, Everyone Says I Love You. I loved it. I thought it worked as a musical, I found it witty and fun.
Astair and Kelly, of course; American In Paris, Top Hat. They're all extraordinary and marvellous. People grew up on these films and they've become completely unfashionable. Is this the renaissance of the musical film?

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