Natalie Portman and Rashida Jones Co-Chair L.A. Dance Project Gala

Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for L.A. Dance Project
Natalie Portman, Rashida Jones

"I think that everything exciting in art and music is happening down here — there's just so much life and innovation and that's what makes L.A. so special," Portman told THR at the fundraiser.

Natalie Portman’s husband, Benjamin Millepied, a veteran of both the Paris Opera Ballet and the New York City Ballet who made his big screen debut with Black Swan, founded the roving L.A. Dance Project in 2011, and now the company finally has a home of its own — a raw, cavernous space in an industrial area south of the Arts District.

Portman took a break from chatting with the evening's guest of honor, Mikhail Baryshnikov, to talk about her love of downtown L.A. "I think that everything exciting in art and music is happening down here — there's just so much life and innovation and that's what makes L.A. so special," she told The Hollywood Reporter at the outdoor champagne reception Saturday.

"You really can create something new in sort of a barren area and people will come. We don't have an arts establishment here, and so you can start new things. It's really exciting to enhance the culture of the city more. We [already] have an incredible music scene, we have an incredible arts scene, we have an opera company," she added. "But we're really bringing dance to the L.A. community in a place where there's a building — their own performance space — and the company that's going to be performing for the public."

Millepied added: "Here we're going to put on 40, 50 shows a year," he told THR. "The point is that we are not really a home company until we actually perform enough for the community."

The lavish event — which included performances choreographed by Millepied as well as a duet featuring "genderless" YouTube sensation (and Ellen Page’s girlfriend) Emma Portner, followed by a three-course dinner — drew an eclectic crowd that included luminaries not only from the dance world and Hollywood couples such as Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fischer, but also fashion (Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy), art (Barbara Kruger, who designed LADP's logo) and music (Quincy Jones, whose daughter Rashida served as the evening's co-chair along with Portman).       

"There's been this promise of downtown as like the epicenter of L.A. for a long time, and I think it's finally happening," Rashida Jones said as waiters passed by toting bottles of Dom Perignon and trays of garlic noodle appetizers. "It's taken a really long time and it takes people to understand the neighborhood, respect the neighborhood. But [Millepied] is betting on downtown because he's going to bring a community here to gather around an artistic endeavor, which I think is always the best way to bring people together. I'm going to be dancing onstage — just kidding," she joked.

But was Jones planning to tear up the dance floor after dinner? "Of course! I love to dance." Ditto for Portman: "I will be dancing, yes. I'm really looking forward to the afterparty," she said. Millepied promised that everyone would be on their feet by evening's end: "I was very specific in what kind of music would be played tonight, so we could really have some fun," he told THR. "Later on we're going on to have a lot of old school hip-hop."

Even the legendary Baryshnikov was impressed by Millepied's vision, even though it's the antithesis of classical. "L.A. is in need of a project like this," he told THR. "Benjamin is a very entertaining choreographer and his group is a really phenomenal group of young dancers. He is an ambitious person and I'm sure he will succeed. I just think everything kind of fits: L.A. and Ben and Natalie, of course."

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