Howard County’s ‘Bald Ballerina’ is back with a lot of love at annual fundraiser to combat breast cancer
By Carolyn Kelemen
Baltimore Sun Media|
Jan 01, 2020 | 6:00 AM
When Maggie Kudirka invites dancers to perform in her benefits, they come. From near and far, in fact, and this weekend is no exception.
Known widely as “The Bald Ballerina,” Howard County’s much-loved Kudirka produces her sixth “No One Can Survive Alone” fundraiser to help pay for treatments for stage 4 metastatic breast cancer this Sunday at Howard Community College.
And what a show it promises to be.
“While this year’s concert will have a great mix of dance — ballet, tap, jazz, modern, contemporary and musical theater — there will be more Broadway numbers than in past years,” said Kudirka during a break from a tech rehearsal at the college.
“I’m especially excited to present a number from ‘Chicago’ staged by the Verdon/Fosse Legacy and performed by Ashley Blair Fitzgerald and Alyssa Epstein," she said.
A former Radio City Rockette and a breast cancer survivor, Epstein connected with Kudirka at an advocacy event, and their friendship has deepened over the years.
Fitzgerald recently won the Chita Rivera Award for playing “The Dark Lady” in the original Broadway cast of “The Cher Show.” Previous musicals include “On The Town,” “Dirty Dancing” and “Fosse,” a favorite for the triple threat.
A Centennial High School alumna, Fitzgerald studied classical ballet during those years at the now-closed Ballet Royale dance school in Columbia, where she first met Kudirka. Both went on to promising careers in dance.
In 2003, Fitzgerald left the Boston Conservatory of Music for a chance to take a bite out of “The Big Apple.” Her first professional gig was the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” followed by a national tour of “Fosse” and the Frank Sinatra-inspired musical “Come Fly Away.” She appeared in the revival of “Gigi,” and was chosen as Misty Copeland’s understudy in “An American in Paris.”
“I love singing and dancing on Broadway,” Fitzgerald said backstage at “The Cher Show.”
“And I am thrilled to be asked to perform at fundraisers that support artists.”
Dancers up and down the East Coast and across the country are coming to Columbia for Kudirka, whose name is listed in the Playbill roster. Let’s hope she reprises one of her signature pieces, as in the past two shows.
“It’s very rewarding to have great support from the dance community,” Kudirka said recently. “Almost every performer in this year’s concert has been there for me since the beginning.”
She mentioned that one young student from the Edna Lee Dance Studio shared her goal: ”to one day dance in my benefit.”
This is heady stuff for The Bald Ballerina, though she shrugs when offered praise on her long list of achievements. She is steadfast in her determination to make the upcoming concert enjoyable for all and has managed to bring back many of those stellar dance stars.
Isabella Torres is the daughter of Shannon McHale Torres, who was Kudirka’s teacher at Ballet Royale. Torres will dance a solo as well as a duet with her aunt Maeghan McHale, a standout in the 2019 benefit. Ashley Canterna Hardy was named by Dance Magazine as one of “25 People to Watch” and earned a silver medal at the prestigious Varna ballet competition in Bulgaria.
Sara Michelle Murawski is an international ballet star, once a principal with the Pennsylvania Ballet. Jourdan Epstein has danced with Complexions, Bad Boys of Ballet and Company XIV, all top-notch troupes. Kaeli Ware was a principal dancer in Debbie Allen’s “Brothers of the Knight” and has appeared in NBC’s “World of Dance.” Daria Breslin dances with the Nashville Ballet and has performed in every “No One Can Survive Alone” concert.
Dana Donofree, a breast cancer survivor and founder of AnaOno lingerie for patients, will be the Master of Ceremonies. The list of Maryland Dance Studios is long and impressive, and Maggie continues to receive calls from potential performers, young and old, both pros and beginners who just want to be there for her.
“Dance is an art that is passed down from one generation to the next,” Kudirka writes in the program. “So it is especially rewarding to have two generations of dancers from the same family,” a bonus when it happens to be the globetrotting Canternas. Ashley Canterna-Hardy will dance with her daughter Gabriella Hardy. Andrienne Canterna’s daughter, Anami Anami Halo, and Alicia Canterna’s daughter, Reese Canterna, are also on board.
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A most memorable moment took place three benefits ago, when Kudirka performed a contemporary work created by her friend, Adrienne Canterna, a gold medalist who was touring in Germany at the time of the benefit. Moments after the curtain came down, Canterna surprised Kudirka by joining her onstage, and the crowd went wild.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this year’s program became a repeat?
From all the ups Kudirka has enjoyed, there are as many downs. One day she is onstage accepting awards for her work with Dancers Care Foundation in Manhattan; the next she is enduring her 90th treatment at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore
“I am a medical rarity,” Kudirka reminds us. “I am that one woman in 100,000 that gets breast cancer before the age of 25. I had a better chance of being struck by lightning than of being diagnosed with MBC at the age of 23 [and the height of her dance career] ... but here I am!
“When I had my first concert, I never expected to be planning and dancing in my sixth as statistics say the median life expectancy is two to three years. While cancer and its treatments have taken a toll on my body, I am happy that I can still dance and will be performing.”
The sixth annual No One Can Survive Alone: A Fundraiser Concert for the Bald Ballerina will be Sunday, Jan. 5, at 2:30 p.m. at Howard Community College’s Smith Theater, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Suggested donation $35 with discounts for students. For tickets, contact BaldBallerina@gmail.com.