Dancer-choreographer Katherine LaNasa Hopper is relaxing in her Frank Gehry-designed home in Venice, describing the choreography for her first theater piece, "Rocking This Ship." The work for six dancers is part of a concert by Collage Dance Theatre this weekend at the Skylight Theatre in Hollywood--although without Hopper, who is scheduled to dance in "The Nutcracker" with Columbia City Ballet in South Carolina.
On another level of the large, airy, modern art-filled compound, her actor-director husband, Dennis, is deep into his own interview with a magazine writer. The office phone keeps ringing and the house is humming with low-key activity. The Hoppers, married in June and just back from filming his latest movie, "The Hot Spot," in Texas and a quick trip to Japan, are at home and at work.
"Choreography is something I wanted to do but felt I wasn't ready for until now," says Katherine Hopper, who turned 23 Friday, and is a former dancer with Salt Lake City's Ballet West and the Karole Armitage Ballet. "For this piece, I've used storytelling (on tape), two Robert Johnson blues songs and some of my favorite poems. It's been easy to do with this company--they're really open and they work hard."
She describes "Rocking This Ship" as "a portrait of a girl. The songs and poems are works I've thought about a lot. One poem is by my best friend in New York, who taped and sent it to me to use. I also use part of a Frank O'Hara poem. He's the closest thing to a human god for me."
Although Hopper didn't begin dancing until 12, by 14 she was accepted to the North Carolina School of the Arts, where she had to catch up with her grade level in dance. After graduation at 17 and an apprenticeship with Milwaukee Ballet, she joined Ballet West and later met and worked with Armitage in a Sundance Institute choreography program.
When Armitage formed her own company in 1986, she invited Hopper to join, and the transplanted Southerner "landed right in the center of this huge New York art scene."
"I was with Karole about 2 1/2 years and we traveled all over the world. Her company does modern dance on pointe and it's very different from classical ballet. She gave me room and I learned a lot--as a dancer and as her assistant."
After her stint with Armitage, Hopper had a taste of film choreography, assisting John Carrafa with his work on "Rooftops" for director Robert Wise, an experience she enjoyed and found much different from stage work.
"For a movie, you have to fit the work into a larger piece, while on stage it's controllable in terms of ideas, music and costumes. I think visually about dance and I always see sets and costumes, too--they can change everything."
Recently Hopper explored new artistic areas when she designed costumes and sets for a Carrafa ballet, "Bach Cello Suite."
It was while she was touring Los Angeles in 1987 with the Armitage company that she met Dennis Hopper. "I don't think he'd ever been to the ballet before," she says with a laugh.
Adjusting to a new life style has also been easy, according to Hopper, who says she feels no pressure to conform to the traditional "Hollywood wife" role. "Dennis isn't a super-social person and he doesn't put any kind of social pressure on me. On a personal level we have a very good relationship and a lot in common. I feel comfortable with him, so when we go out in public I feel comfortable and accepted."
As for the public scrutiny that may come with her marriage, Hopper says: "Long before I met Dennis I got recognition for my dancing and I don't feel like doors have opened to me because of him. When I create something, it's on the line, good or bad. It doesn't matter who I'm married to."
She adds: "As long as you've got the goods when you get to the table, that's what's important."
Pause. "Maybe I'm getting to the table a little faster."