June 08, 2004 06:00 AM

Natalie Portman has had a longtime love affair with … dance. Since age 10, the Long Island native has been attending performances by the renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. So it’s no wonder that she turned up at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater recently for a benefit gala that raised more than $550,000 for The Ailey School and a new theater. “I loved dancing when I was younger, I did everything from ballet to jazz,” Portman, who attended the event with parents Shelly and Avner, told us at the afterparty, held in a tent behind the Apollo. “Ailey is the best staple of New York, culturally. There is so much passion and joy in the dancing, it’s so much more like acting than any other dance I’ve seen.” Another fan is Angela Bassett, who also attended the benefit.

Sunny Side Up
What’s the best part about trading in The Sopranos for Joey? “I’m really glad I don’t have to go into work and cry for six months,” says Drea de Matteo, the murdered moll who is now filming the NBC Friends spin-off with Matt LeBlanc. “Palm trees. No heroin. No beating.”

Magical Mischief
Michael Gambon, who plays the lovable headmaster Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, apparently has a bit of mischief in him, report his colleagues. Once time he slipped, well, an electronic fart machine into Daniel Radcliffe’s sleeping bag before filming a particularly dark scene. Every time Radcliffe was emoting, Gambon would flick the switch. “All of the other boys in the scene kept popping up their heads, saying, ‘It’s not me. It’s the one of the girls,'” says director Alfonso Cuaron. “Poor Dan didn’t know what was going on.”

Greener Grass?
So, we hear that ABC has a new reality show in the works called Wife Swap. While it sounds like something FOX might have dreamed up, the concept is pretty tame: Two moms from very different worlds change families for two weeks and find out they are just as unappreciated. Tune in … or not.

Caught in the Act
Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany, with their 10-month-old son Stellan, and Connelly’s 6-year-old son, Kai, shopping for antiques along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

• By DIANE HERBST and PEOPLE’s New York Bureau

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