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Etoiles shine for charity in Montreal.

MONTREAL--Now in its ninth season, Montreal's Gala des Etoiles, a charity benefit organized by Victor Melnikoff, will be held this year at the Salle Wilfrid Pelletier in the Place des Arts on August 27. The gala is always such a success among international dancers that many accept places on a waiting list and watch the performance from the audience.

"There's no dishonor in this--it's a numbers game," Melnikoff says of the waiting list. "They are invited to the show as guests who are also prepared to dance if necessary."

The three-hour event is tightly programmed, and competition to get onstage is fierce. Melnikoff chooses participants for their status as well as for the works they will present. The guest dancers take class and mix with those on the official program, never knowing until the last minute if they will appear onstage. Their presence in the audience is a form of insurance for the gala, since injuries and other last-minute problems are always possible.

Former Boston Ballet soloist Daniel Meja, for example, tried twice to perform at the gala but was sidelined both times with injuries. In 1989, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens's Kenneth Larson danced in Meja's place when Meja broke a big toe. The following year Ballet de Monte Carlo's Frederic Olivieri substituted when the ill-fated Meja broke his leg at the dress rehearsal.

Occasionally, dancers attend as guests one year and join the cast the next. Boston Ballet principal Jennifer Gelfand, for instance, stayed out of the limelight in 1988 but has danced every year since. American Ballet Theatre soloist Leslie Browne watched the perennially sold-out show in 1989 and performed the following year.

Melnikoff is careful to avoid suggesting that these stars were considered mere replacements. "They are not second-stringers. It is not a question of talent. To get one of these people to agree to be on a reserve list is really something." He emphasizes that space on the program is limited and frequently the very best have to sit out from time to time.

After Montreal, Melnikoff often takes his moveable feast to other cities, inviting some of the guests at the Place des Arts to perform on tour. He will take this year's show to Budapest and is making plans to bring the gala to Atlanta in 1996.

Each year the gala benefits a different children's charity. This year's show will aid the Telethon for Research into Children's Diseases, which sold seven hundred of the 3,000 tickets available for $250 each. Gala organizers have set aside a minimum of one hundred $15 tickets for students, who, as usual, will cram the last rows in the theater to ooh and aah the stars.

This year's gala will include the premiere of a duet choreographed by New York City Ballet principal Damian Woetzel and set to music of Alexander Glazunov. Woetzel will perform the piece with National Ballet of Canada's Margaret Illmann. Other stars will represent Ballet Flamenco Antonio Canales, Ballet National de Marseille, Bolshoi Ballet, Boston Ballet, Donetsk Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Het Nationale Ballet, Kirov Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, National Ballet of Hungary, Paris Opera Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet, as well as independents Fernando Bujones and Margie Gillis.
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Title Annotation:Gala des Etoiles benefit performance for children's charities, Montreal, Canada, Aug 27, 1994, features major dance artists
Author:Howe-Beck, Linde
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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