‘I came home crying every night, but I learned how to build something,’ says the Russian-born founder of Show One Productions.
Russia and Canada are not on the best of terms these days, but you wouldn’t know it from the work of Svetlana Dvoretsky, who has spent the past decade bringing some of the finest artists from her homeland to the stages of her adopted country.
She belongs to an endangered species, the impresario, a word she didn’t even know when growing up in St. Petersburg.
The daughter of a doctor father and pianist mother, she studied piano from childhood, but what really fascinated her was the management and presentation of artists, a field known in Soviet days simply as artistic administration.
She did not want to be a cog in an administrative wheel, however, and the capitalist world of the West naturally beckoned. Her dream? New York.
But she had an uncle who had lived in Toronto since the 1970s and he pointed out the advantages of coming to the land Voltaire once characterized as a few acres (arpents) of snow. To go to America in the late 1990s she would have to register as a refugee, without permission to work. To go to Canada she could register as an immigrant, with doors open to the future.
And so, on a sunny day in 1998, she arrived in Toronto, confident that work in the arts would eventually turn up, even if she did have to begin her Canadian life in retail sales and the corporate world.
Looking back on those early years, going from job to job, she credits the experience with teaching her the meaning of work: “I came home crying every night, but I learned how to build something.”
Along the way she also visited friends in New York, travelling for awhile with their Russian comedy troupe. When the troupe planned a return to North America a few years later, their Canadian friend determined to bring them to Toronto.
“It was 2003, I was out of a job and had money to live on for only three or four months, but it worked.”
Encouraged by the experience, she began to work on small projects, tapping into the Russian-speaking community, and then one day in an elevator she bumped into the celebrated Russian violinist-conductor Vladimir Spivakov, a fellow student of her mother’s at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory.
Not only was Spivakov intrigued by her ambition, he introduced her to his management in New York, declaring that he wanted the tyro impresario to be his presenter in Canada.
“It was very brave of him,” she recalls, “and I will never forget his trust. I had no record, no reputation, no organization.” But as her new client obviously recognized, she did have energy and determination.
And so, in October 2004, she presented her first concert as Show One Productions in North York’s George Weston Recital Hall, the Moscow Virtuosi with Vladimir Spivakov.
“I knew nothing about preparing a budget,” she says. “I actually wound up making $5,000. I would have made more, but the journalists didn’t want to pay for their tickets.”
Although she describes the concert as “one of the happiest days of my life,” it was preceded by weeks of exhausting work, phoning everyone she could think of and offering to deliver tickets in person.
Then, as she puts it, “the real world kicked in,” as season followed season, some bringing profits, some bringing losses: “I learned from the famous impresario Sol Hurok that if the public doesn’t want to come, nothing can stop them. Not one of the presenters I know buys insurance. It costs almost as much as you would lose. So we pray, basically. You swallow and move on.”
Dvoretsky usually brings in 10 or 12 presentations each season, mainly to Montreal and Toronto, with non-Russian artists such as actor John Malkovich and the Maria Pages Flamenco Dance Company increasingly augmenting her Russian offerings.
“I may be the only one left bringing in such artists on a commercial basis,” she suggests, and that includes enterprises as large as the National Orchestra of France, the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Boris Eifman Ballet.
To celebrate her 10th anniversary she is bringing the famous Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky to Koerner Hall on June 1, the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre in Eugene Onegin (with English surtitles) to the Toronto Centre for the Arts on June 10 and, by way of personal celebration, the Moscow Virtuosi with Vladimir Spivakov to Roy Thomson Hall on May 9.
“We should work even more vigorously to give voice to the artist in these difficult times,” she says. “The only way people can find a common language is through art.”
by William Littler