Victor Melnikoff R.I.P.

Written by  //  October 25, 2010  //  Absent Friends  //  8 Comments

Victor Melnikoff
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 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. More The Canadian Encyclopedia


Produced Gala des Étoiles
Set new standards. Became a member of the Order of Canada in 1992

Victor Melnikoff, a lawyer who for a quarter of a century produced the annual star-studded dance show Gala des Étoiles in Montreal and in major cities in Europe and Asia, died on Tuesday after two weeks in St. Luc Hospital, where he was treated for heart and liver ailments. He was 66.

For a man whose name became known among leading dancers and artistic directors throughout the world, Melnikoff ironically had little interest in the art until his mid-30s, when, on a Caribbean vacation, he encountered Montreal’s Eddy Toussaint Ballet and subsequently married one of its dancers, Nathalie Grosshenny.

Melnikoff was intrigued when a French osteopath who treated dancers, Phillipe Druelle, proposed a dance fundraising event. Melnikoff’s legal and business acumen and Grosshenny’s contacts in the dance world made a formidable team for organizing an event that had no equal at the time.

“We thought it was brave and ambitious of him to try something as challenging,” recalls Frank Augustyn, the former National Ballet of Canada star who served as the gala’s artistic director and adviser for many years. “We didn’t know whether it would work for more than one year. Later in its international edition, we felt proud to be part of a gala that represented Canada abroad.”

The charity show, initially called Don des Étoiles, set new standards for the number and outstanding quality of its performers. The gala promised “the superstars of dance” and delivered them in a show at Place des Arts that for many editions extended over three hours.

The after-show dinner-dance, punctuated by a wild rock ‘n’ roll contest in which gala dancers paired with guests, became a highly anticipated black-tie social event to open the fall social season.

Guided by Augustyn and by the late founder of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Ludmilla Cheriaeff, Melnikoff developed an eye for budding talent. Sylvie Guillem of the Paris Opera Ballet was just one of many young dancers he brought to the gala who went on to celebrated careers (Guillem’s silhouette became the Gala’s signature logo).

Over the years, an appearance at the gala became a vaunted addition to a young dancer’s resumé. Melnikoff spent many hours viewing unsolicited videos from dancers eager to join his show.

But many top-flight dancers like Karen Kain, Fernando Bujones and Jennifer Gelfand appeared year after year, happy to be measured against their peers and eager to partake in a back-stage camaraderie that Melnikoff likened to a family.

At the same time, Melnikoff encouraged choreographers to produce new duets specifically for his dancers. In later years, outstanding contemporary works dominated the programs, largely replacing the standard classical ballet duets of the gala’s first decade. Always feeling the public pulse, Melnikoff more recently added tango, flamenco, oriental dance and tap to his programs.

The gala, insisted Melnikoff, was all about audience wow. To please Greek tastes, his gala in Athens was contemporary oriented. For the Japanese in Tokyo – classical.

A well-read man who enjoyed teasing his performers with earthy comments in both English and Russian, and who frequently discussed politics with the late Pierre Trudeau, Melnikoff was born of Russian émigré parents in Shanghai in 1944. The family moved to Montreal in 1953, then later to San Francisco. Melnikoff returned to Montreal, where he obtained degrees in literature and law at McGill University.

For his contributions to culture, Melnikoff was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1992 and received Russia’s Diaghilev Medal in 1997.

Melnikoff is survived by his former wife, Nathalie, their son, Mikhail, 18, and two brothers, George and Bob.

His body will be cremated privately, according to his wishes. The family is considering a public memorial at a later time.

The future of the gala remains unclear, but the likelihood is that no gala will be held this year.

(CTV Montreal) On Your Side: No show for ticket holders
People who bought tickets to the annual Gala des Etoiles are wondering if they will ever get their money back.
Robert and Hanny Caine had seen the show multiple times.
“You had dancers from all over the world and this was an opportunity to see them. It was a variety of different styles, not just classical ballet,” said Robert.
Because they were regulars they were offered the chance to buy their tickets a year in advance.
“It was an incentive for your seating position,” said Robert.
The cheque for $500 was quickly cashed, except the couple never received their tickets.
“Normally they would send the tickets months in advance,” said Hanny.
They became worried after reading a newspaper article about the death of Victor Melnikoff, the creator and producer of the show.
“I would like to see the $500 come back because I could use it for something else,” said Robert.
Vincent Prager knew Melnikoff and was an occasional host for after parties.
He said the show started as a benefit dinner for dancers.
“Within the ballet world it was really a very major event every year,” said Prager.

Financial problems
According to Prager, Melnikoff had financial problems.
“He became a one-man show and then he ran into financial problems not only the economic situation deteriorated, but he didn’t know how to deal with people and to get money for the program.
The lawyers handling Melnikoff’s estate declined interviews, but CTV News did learn that Melnikoff’s son renounced his inheritance.
Notary David Dolan said that is usually a sign the estate has very few assets.
“If there’s nothing, nothing, nothing in the estate — we have just enough money to pay for the funeral and that’s it — it’s too bad but there won’t be anyone to claim to,” said Dolan.
Which means fans who already bought tickets are unlikely to ever get their money back.
“I’m disappointed, very disappointed,” said Hanny Caine.
“It’s more than the money, I’m just disappointed the show’s not on.”
Prager has heard some talk about another group interested in taking over the show, but there is little chance that tickets for this year’s show will be honoured.

8 Comments on "Victor Melnikoff R.I.P."

  1. Anne Curry June 7, 2010 at 7:51 am ·

    A dear, dear, lifelong friend to me.. who will be sorely missed.
    A brilliant mind.. and a BIG heart.

  2. jacques clement July 13, 2010 at 7:12 am ·

    to whom it may concern,
    is there a possibility of recuparating our $250.00 for the prepaid seats for the gala des etoiles for this year. It seems impossible to reach somebody. I would appreciate an answer please,


    Jacques clement 514-684-6506

  3. n zeitoune July 24, 2010 at 6:16 am ·

    he was a nice fellow, but what happened to the people who purchased and paid for tickets for the LE GALA DES ETOILES. we have no tickets and did not get our money back… thanks

  4. Suzanne Litwin August 17, 2010 at 7:04 am ·

    Firstly, my sympathies to the family
    of Victor Melnikoff…
    To all those associated with the Gala…. I purchased 2 advanced tickets for the 2010 Gala at a total of $250.00. I would appreciate a refund. Please call 514-487-9449

  5. Dina Kneller-Gold August 24, 2010 at 9:08 am ·

    Firstly, my sympathies to the family of Victor Melnikoff…
    To all those associated with the Gala…. I have been a supporter and a fano of the Gala from its inception. I purchased 2 advanced tickets for the 2010 Gala at a total of $250.00. I would appreciate a refund. Please call 514-928-5512

  6. Sibylla Chan October 3, 2010 at 4:59 am ·

    It’s hard to comprehend that a man of Victor’s intellect, depth, insight, wit, creativity, not to mention his propensity for love, is for ever lost to the world and of course to me.I have been fortunate to have been close to him as he was a most special friend. He has left a void that I fear may never be filled. Naturally, my sympathies go out to his family.

  7. Mark Levy September 4, 2012 at 12:18 am ·

    I spoke to Victor the day before he went into the hospital.for the final time.He love the Gala and worked hard to make it happen every year. I do know that because of the economy he had trouble getting sponsors. He told me without their support he was in trouble. He always believed he would pull it out like he had done in the past. He knew he was sick but surely did not know he was going to die a few days. I am very sorry for anyone that lost money but I know that was not his intentions.
    I live in the U.S. in Georgia and I can say going to the Gala was something my wife and I enjoyed thoroughly. It is a shame things ended this way.

  8. Patrick Malard June 12, 2016 at 2:32 pm ·

    I met Victor Melnikoff and his wife for quite a few years in a row. At the time I was one of the Amis des Grands Ballets Canadiens and I had just designed the new membership card for that association and two board posters for their special events.. I remember Victor calling me one year to sponsor one of the ballet dancers but that year he did call me my father had just passed away and I did not know if I could help him the best I could.. time flies in those moments.. but I did give him one of my paintings and he did say he enjoyed it very much.. I truly want to thank the Melnikoffs for all these wonderful evenings they created year after year. Once I even danced with one of the Russian ballerina who had performed that very evening and that was truly magical.. I did check the internet and I believe this event is now well and alive in Europe for the last few years two days in May and is now called the Gala des Étoiles. It is truly a shame things ended this way for the creators of the Gala. One of the biggest problem I recall that really affected many of these galas for the world of Ballet here in Montréal was the decision by the Federal and Provincial tax departments to not allow for a tax exemption for the full amount of the purchased tickets. This removed the incentive for companies and corporations to buy tickets both for the show and the follow up receptions that were always fabulous. For the few tax dollars collected with this modification the artists ended up paying the price of this fiscal measure. This was one of the reasons Victor and many other patrons like him found it hard to create such events here in Montréal.

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