It’s a go in Montreal. – Dance Matters – dance showcase, Gala des Etoiles Gala of Stars – international ballet stars volunteer to dance without pay
Loyalty among the world’s best dancers has guaranteed that the seventeenth edition of Montreal’s Gala des Etoiles (Gala of Stars) will live up to its reputation as a major dance showcase.
Reduced private and public sponsorship threatened the Canadian institution’s birthday celebrations until ballet luminaries, headed by Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, pitched in to help. Instead of raising money fur charily, they invited superstars to dance without pay at the September 4 event at the Salle Wilfred-Pelletier to benefit the gala itself.
Before he retired from the stage, Nissinen was a gala regular, having danced in eight of the annual shows and become a personal friend of gala President Victor M. Melnikoff in the process. When he realized that the event, a unique production featuring the latest and greatest of world dancers, was caught in a tightening economic noose and that Melnikoff would not be able to make his usual round the world talent search, the former San Francisco Ballet principal offered his help.
With Eldar Aliev, artistic director of Indiana’s Ballet Internationale, Toronto’s Frank Augustyn, and Milan’s Jan Broeckx, Nissinen and Melnikoff designed the anniversary program. Typically, it honors new young talents as well as several veterans of tire event among the twenty or so (there are always last-minute changes as dancers juggle their schedules to appear at the star-studded show) scheduled to perform.
The Gala des Etoiles is the most prestigious event in the world, said Aliev, who appeared from 1992 through 1996, while he was still with the Kirov Ballet. “It provides dance of the highest quality. Dancers really wanted to support Victor. They know [the gala] is about humanity and support for the art form.”
Every dancer invited accepted without reservation. Faruk Ruzimatoy, a Kirov star who has performed in numerous galas, was the first to volunteer. Other participants include Carlos Acosta, The Royal Ballet; Patricia Barker, Pacific Northwest Ballet; Zdenek Konvalina, Houston Ballet; Sarah Lamb, Boston Ballet; Carlos Rodriguez and Angel Rojas, Nuevo Ballet Espanol de Madrid; and others from Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Portugal, and Canada.
Heavily supported by public monies, the gala began encountering financial problems in 2002 when the Canadian government imposed a moratorium on its sponsorship funding. At almost the same time, corporate support dwindled dramatically, likely, according to Melnikoff, because of global economic pressures. Although it sold out as usual in 2002, there was nothing left to sustain the organization and plan the anniversary show. Since 1995, the gala has appeared in Greece, Israel, Japan, Hungary, and Toronto, Canada.
Melnikoff said he is deeply lunched by the generosity of the stars. Since 1986 he has entertained dancers in his home, busting parties day and night, even housing some dancers. As a lawyer he has offered them his professional services. But mostly he has regarded them as friends. “The gala wasn’t all professional, it was personal too,” he has said repeatedly. “It’s also a family.”
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