Victor Michael Melnikoff, lawyer, dance gala impresario (born at Shanghai, China 10 Feb 1944, died at Montréal 6 April 2010). Victor Melnikoff was the second of 3 sons born to Mikhail Melnikoff and Faina Rubin, Russian émigrés in Shanghai, where Mikhail operated a photography studio. Victor Melnikoff received his initial primary school education in English, but his knowledge of spoken Russian learned at home became a useful tool years later in recruiting Russian star dancers for his galas. In 1952, after 3 years of living under China's Communist rule, the Melnikoff family moved to Montréal.
A rebellious adolescent during the culturally iconoclastic early 1960s, Melnikoff was sent to live with his older brother in Sacramento, Ca, where he graduated from Bishop Armstrong School, a Catholic school noted for discipline. Back in Montréal, Melnikoff earned a Bachelor of Arts from Sir George Williams (later Concordia) University and, in 1970, a Bachelor of Civil Law at McGill University.
In 1980 Victor Melnikoff saw the Montréal-based Eddy TOUSSAINT Ballet perform on the French islands of Guadeloupe. Two years later he married one of the company's dancers, Nathalie Grosshenny, who would contribute largely to the success of the Melnikoff galas through her fundraising, dancer recruitment and social contacts. The idea for a charity benefit gala called the Don des Étoiles was first proposed by Daniel Seilliers, a ballet teacher at Montréal's École superieure de danse du Quebec, and by Phillipe Druelle, a French osteopath who treated dancers. In 1986 in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of Montréal's PLACE DES ARTS, Seilliers and Druelle staged the first Don des Étoiles to benefit osteopath research. Financially it was not a success, but the Melnikoffs saw the show's potential, took over its production and staged the Don des Étoiles the following year, again in part to aid osteopath research.
The Melnikoffs assembled a gala volunteer committee that included corporate and society leaders and also sought advice from leading members of the dance community such as Ludmilla CHIRIAEFF, founder of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and National Ballet of Canada principal dancer Frank AUGUSTYN, who for years would be listed as the gala's artistic adviser.
The gala's roster of Canadian and international ballet stars performing classic duets was unprecedented. Many stars returned year after year. The glamour and high performance quality of the Don des Étoiles made its annual fall appearance an anticipated social event. Part of the gala's artistic attraction was its pairing of star dancers who had never before performed together. Dancers hoping to be in the gala sent demonstration videos to Melnikoff, who studiously crafted the right mix of choreography and performers for a show that for many years ran to 3 hours.
Renamed the Gala des Étoiles in its 7th year, the show's program began to shift from purely classical works to include more contemporary duets and solos, some of which had their world or North American premieres at the Gala. In its last decade, the show included world-class dancers outside ballet, including tango, belly dance and tap. The success of the Montréal Gala led Melnikoff for several years to organize similar galas in Toronto and, with the help of local producers, in Japan, Greece, Hungary, Mexico and Israel.
Separated from his wife in 2002 and facing loss of corporate support as well as personal financial difficulty, Melnikoff staged the Gala that year thanks only to the generosity of dancers who donated their talents, a sign of their esteem for his show. But with the subsequent cancellation of the dinner/dance, the Gala lost much of its society cachet. The final Gala des Étoiles was held in Montréal in 2009. In 2010, while Melnikoff was planning the next Gala, he was hospitalized for heart and liver ailments; he died 2 weeks later.
Victor Melnikoff became a member of the ORDER OF CANADA in 1992 and received Russia's Diaghilev Medal in 1997 for his work as an impresario.