Marina Neeman remembers that, nearly 20 years ago, a dancer from La Scala theater in Milan, Italy performed in Jerusalem. “Everyone in the country came to Jerusalem,” she says with a sigh. On Monday night, Neeman will attempt to repeat that long-ago magic with a first-ever gala evening hosted by the Jerusalem Ballet and held at the Jerusalem Convention Center. The event, which will showcase a host of the world’s top ballet dancers, stars from major companies, is unprecedented in the Israeli dance history.And, as Neeman discovered, for good reason. Putting together such a feat was nearly impossible and demanded an extraordinary amount of creativity, ingenuity, support and passion from Neeman and her peers.“Less than a year ago, an organization called HARLI, which stands for the Organization for the Development of Jerusalem, received a grant from the government for culture. It was the first time they had received funds specifically for culture. They told us to do a project that could inspire the entire country to come to Jerusalem. That’s a very difficult thing to do,” explains Neeman.The first thing that came to her mind was the ultimate memorial and celebration of her close friend and mentor Nina Timofeeva’s life.Timofeeva was the guiding light of the Jerusalem Ballet, the co-founder of the company’s school and an inspiration to the Israeli ballet community. Born and raised in Russia, Timofeeva was trained at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet and went on to dance as a soloist for the Mariinsky Theater and the Bolshoi Ballet. Mid-career, Timofeeva decided to pursue higher education and graduated from the Russian Academy of Theater Arts in 1980. She became a choreographer for the Bolshoi Theater, where she spent two years before moving to Israel. Together with her daughter, the dancer Nadya Timofeeva, Nina put the foundations down for a ballet legacy in Jerusalem.“We were building our school for 10 years and two years ago Miss Nina passed away. We were in a very difficult position financially, so the evening wasn’t everything I would have wanted it to be to celebrate her. When HARLI approached us, I thought it was a perfect chance to honor Miss Nina.” Gala evenings are a major thing in the ballet world. They are a platform for new stars to be discovered and for established artists to strut their stuff. These evenings often allow ballerinas and ballet masters to get to know one another and to forge collaborations going forward.“Israeli is not a ballet nation. It is a modern dance nation,” says Neeman.“I knew that it would be very difficult to bring the ballet stars here. These dancers, they perform all around the world. I knew this was a very risky project but I knew that I wanted to do it.”For months, Neeman and Timofeeva waited to receive approval for the funding of the project. They went back and forth, first contacting artists and closing dates then pulling back due to lack of certainty.Three months ago, thanks to the HARLI committee’s cooperation, they got a green light.“We had three months to close the program. These dancers are booked three years in advance. We had to find a date that everyone was available. I spoke with the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet and the Vienna Ballet. It was a crazy period. It’s impossible to do these things so quickly but we knew that if we didn’t use the funds in 2017 they would go away. Finally, we closed our list of performers. They all really want to come here and made great efforts to make it happen.For more than 80%, it will be the first time in Israel.”The list includes Svetlana Zakharova, Denis Rodkin, Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino, Ivan Vasiliev, Marina Eichwald, Roman Lazik, Marianna Rizkina and Timor Askerov. “The program is truly amazing. We have such big stars coming to dance here and it’s very exciting. We want to show the legacy of Miss Nina in Jerusalem. We want to show that we aren’t stars but at least there are professional organizations that recognize us and were willing to participate. Not one company said no.”The Jerusalem Ballet’s Gala Evening will take place on September 4 at 8 p.m. at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. For more information, visit www.bimot.co.il.