At the inaugural gala on Thursday for the L.A. Dance Project, more than 150 dance supporters joined founding director Benjamin Millepied and his wife, actress Natalie Portman, at the Bel-Air home of Sutton and Christian Stracke. Sutton and Catharine Soros co-chaired the affair; Portman served as the gala’s honorary chairwoman.
Optimism for L.A. Dance Project’s future pervaded the crowd, as guests expressed their enthusiasm for both contemporary and classical dance.
Never mind that Millepied will be moving to Paris to become director of dance for the Paris Opera Ballet beginning in 2014. Millepied said he’ll still be overseeing the company's artistic programs.
Combining the live and silent auctions and ticket prices of $1,000 and up, proceeds topped $250,000, which will go toward new commissions and operations.
“My father took me to ‘The Nutcracker’ every Christmas,” said Reese Witherspoon, adding that she carried on that tradition by taking her daughter, now 14, to see “The Nutcracker Suite” each year, too.
More guests mingling under the stars included actress Rashida Jones; “The Social Network” writer Aaron Sorkin; “Black Swan” producer Mike Medavoy; producers Sydney Holland and Erik Fleming; designer Sophie Buhai of Vena Cava; celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis; restaurateurs Catherine and Elizabeth An; MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch; and the dance company’s founding producer Charles Fabius, among others.
“Benjamin [Millepied] is the best curator we have in dance today,” said Soros. “He’s bringing together the best music, the best visuals, the best artists and the best choreographers. This company is not just ready to tour the world -- it has toured the world.”
Sutton Stracke talked of Millepied’s choice of unique venues. “I love that he likes to put dance in interesting places, that he is taking dance out of the theater,” she said. As an example, “Invisible Cities,” which L.A. Dance Project is doing in collaboration with the opera company the Industry, will take place in September at Union Station.
From atop the stage created for the event, Stracke said she couldn’t have imagined that her “backyard would be transformed into a mini-Hollywood Bowl,” adding, “I do promise you will be leaving here as in love with the L.A. Dance Project as I am.”
Millepied expressed his goal of creating a first-rate dance company in Los Angeles that could present works that shaped modern dance history and create new works relevant to our time that speak to this generation.
“What better place than this incredibly vibrant city, this energetic arts community to achieve this goal?” he asked.
The company's dancers performed two pieces, starting with “Under Pressure,” consisting of what Millepied called “quotes” from the L.A. Dance's repertoire, set to music by David Bowie and Queen.
Dancer Charlie Hodges compared the work to “a mash-up, like they do on ‘Glee,’” he said.
The second performance previewed a commissioned work by choreographer Justin Peck, which will premiere in Lyon this September.
Peck called the dancers “hard-working, relentless and eager to work for the project. I have confidence in this company,” he said.
At the program’s conclusion, Millepied thanked the company’s supporters, saving Portman for last, expressing gratitude for her “endless love and support.”
“I’m so glad you still like dance after ‘Black Swan,’” he said. Portman starred in the film, which Millepied choreographed.
Committee members also included fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, stylist Mary Alice Haney, art advisor Karyn Lovegrove, artist Kimberly Brooks, Decades boutique owner Cameron Silver and publicist Jessica Robin Trent.
Find more of Ellen Olivier’s reports on social happenings at Society News LA.