Natalie Portman may be joining Chris Hemsworth in Marvel’s “Thor 4: Love and Thunder,” but as the petite, Dior-clad actress struck a range of poses on the carpet inside downtown Los Angeles gallery space Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel on Saturday night, it was impossible to imagine her wielding an enormous hammer. But then, the Oscar winner has made a career out of surprising cinematic transformations — Jackie O, anyone?
Portman, she served as co-chair of L.A. Dance Project’s eighth annual gala, wasn’t focused on embodying the female Thor. Instead, she wanted to shine a spotlight on the work of her husband. Benjamin Millepied, who founded LADP. “I’m so proud of him for realizing his dream,” she told Variety. And Millepied dreamed big: “You know, I remember eight years ago he was saying, ‘I want to have a dance company in L.A., I want to have our own space and I want to have like 15 dancers.’ And now we’re here and he did all of those things.”
Did Portman respond like a supportive spouse or give her husband a reality check at the time? “Well, I believe in him, and I believe in dreams, and it’s a beautiful dream,” she said with a smile, perhaps proving that opposites — pragmatists and dreamers, in this case — really do attract. “I also understand how challenging it is to finance in this hyper-capitalist life,” Portman added. “It’s hard to create new arts institutions in any town. And in this day and age, especially with an art like dance, which is not easily commodified. You can buy a painting or buy a recording of music but you can’t take a dance home with you. There’s no way to sell it in a flashy way.”
That may be true, but this lavish soiree in the center of the thriving Arts District seemed like the epitome of flash. The evening kicked off with alfresco toasts of Dom served in a courtyard, ended with a locally sourced seated dinner and in between guests shuffled into a studio space for intimate musical (composer Nicholas Britell played his scores for “Moonlight” and “Succession” ) and dance performances. The latter featured resident artists and the LADP company but students from the Gabriella Foundation — a charter school for girls from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods that incorporates dance into its curriculum — proved to be an emotional highlight for the audience.
Not surprisingly, the benefit attracted a diverse array of luminaries including Andie MacDowell, LL Cool J and Lawrence Bender, and over $1 million had been raised for the dance company by the end of the night.
“I started out as a ballet dancer, then became an actor, then became a movie producer,” Bender told Variety. “I love Benjamin’s choreography and his style and I want to support him. [Modern] dance is an important part of a thriving city for someone who loves the arts.”
Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins shared a different perspective on Los Angeles. “I think this is a very strange city” he told Variety. “The more ways we can interpret the culture of the city, the spirit of the city, the better. Dance is a very rich form, so it’s a match made in heaven.”
Jenkins is not just a fan of the form — there’s a move tie-in, too: “I’m going to do Alvin Ailey with Fox Searchlight, so my life and dance is starting to merge.” The project is still a work-in-progress at this point. “It’s not quite a biopic but maybe it’s a biopic,” said Jenkins. “I still haven’t figured it out myself.”
Just as one director is getting into dance, Millepied is about to make his directorial debut (a modern-day reimagining of “Carmen” that begins shooting in January) now that LADP’s foundation seems solid.
“I’m particularly proud of this year,” he said. “To see the growing community that’s supporting the company, the fact that we now have a space and perform regularly, and people are actually showing up and enjoying the art we create is really rewarding. We also travel internationally. I feel like after eight years, we are getting places.”