Margaret Kudirka, a senior at Towson University and a member of Ballet ADI and the Towson University Dance Company, performs during the Rising Star compeition at the Celebration of the Arts in Howard County March 23 at Howard Community College.
Margaret Kudirka, a senior at Towson University and a member of Ballet ADI and the Towson University Dance Company, performs during the Rising Star compeition at the Celebration of the Arts in Howard County March 23 at Howard Community College. (Submitted photo by James Ferry)

There was plenty to celebrate when the Howard County Arts Council held its 16th annual Celebration of the Arts. Besides the awards handed out in various categories, there was an announcement that wasn't on the scheduled program for this festive event held Saturday, March 23 at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

Addressing the well-dressed crowd of arts advocates, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said: "It's time to have a wonderful, state of the art, 21st-century arts center here in Howard County."


Ulman's announcement flowed from his remarks about the redesign of Symphony Woods and other arts-oriented plans for downtown Columbia. Although he added that there are "no exact plans yet" for the proposed arts complex, he said to expect funding in the next budget he submits to the County Council.

It was hardly the only time the audience applauded during the evening. Much of the applause was for the 10 contestants in the annual Rising Star Emerging Performing Artist Award Competition. Open to contestants between the ages of 18 and 35, this competition required each of them to give a three-minute performance at the public program. The audience filled out ballots that were tabulated at the end of the evening, with the winner receiving a cash prize of $5,000.

Judging from the enthusiastic applause that greeted her solo ballet performance, it was no great surprise that this year's winner was Margaret Kudirka. She performed to her own contemporary ballet choreography for "No Regrets," which was danced to Edith Piaf's famous song. Kudirka's gracefully angular movement across the stage really went over well with the audience.

Near tears when her name was announced as the winner, Kudirka was still breathless as she greeted people in the lobby after the program.

"I'm shocked. It's hard to breathe," the beautifully smiling and elegantly gowned Ellicott City resident said.

Kudirka, who is a 22-year-old senior at Towson University, certainly had nothing to regret about her crowd-pleasing performance. Having previously done "No Regrets" for the 2012 American College Dance Festival Gala Concert, she has been able to tweak its choreography over time.

"I don't know when I'll perform it again, but I have it in the back pocket if there's an opportunity," she noted.

Currently making regular trips to New York City in order to audition for major dance companies, she'll doubtless have no regrets about a $5,000 prize to help with expenses.

The other Rising Star finalists, who also all performed during the Smith Theatre program, were James Ginnever for musical theater, MaryLee Adams for musical theater, Rebecca Hargrove for opera, Woobin Park for classical piano, Margot Seibert for musical theater, Shawn Naar for theatrical monologue, Yuri Shadrin and Tian Lu for a classical piano duo, Jennifer Sung for opera, and the Dahlia Flute Duo comprised of Mary Matthews and Melissa Wertheimer.

Their performances definitely provided a youthful spark for the sponsoring Howard County Arts Council. This year's fundraising event had a head count of 530 guests and 60 volunteer event workers, according to arts council executive director Coleen West.

Her own head fashionably adorned with a black lace veil known as a fascinator, West greeted guests during a pre-performance reception at which local restaurants went out of their way to wow people with tasty treats. West said she felt "relief and enjoyment" that the months of event planning now allowed her to have fun at the party.

Also in a party mood were recipients of the previously announced Howie Awards, bestowed in several categories.

The husband and wife recipients of the Legacy in the Arts Award, Elkridge residents Pat and Steve Teller, are former community theater actors who now prefer to volunteer off-stage with ticket sales and house management duties for the plays done by Silhouette Stages at Slayton House Theatre. They're a familiar presence in the Slayton House lobby, but this night would entail walking onto the Smith Theatre stage to accept a Howie Award.

"This is my first time ever to wear a tux," Steve observed in the Smith Theatre lobby prior to the awards program. His spiffy appearance in a formal tuxedo was in contrast to the casual attire he prefers when he's helping with the technical aspects of the shows for Silhouette Stages.


However, that theater company's regulars know that Steve always wears a humorously designed, tuxedo-themed T-shirt for Silhouette Stages' opening night performances.

Glancing around the Smith Theatre lobby on what amounted to a night off from his usual tech duties a half-mile away at Slayton House, Steve joked that "I'm still looking around at the lighting" to make sure everything was as it should be.

During their jointly delivered Howie acceptance speech, which was done with the practiced ease of a vaudeville duo, Pat remarked that interacting with the public through ticket sales at Silhouette Stages enabled her to "become a voice of the group."

The other recipients of Howie Awards were actor Bruce Nelson, an Everyman Theatre company member who gained much of his early experience with Rep Stage, for Outstanding Artist; Shawn Costello, who teaches at Lisbon Elementary School, for Outstanding Arts Educator; and attorney Kevin Kelehan, whose activities include representing the Columbia Festival of the Arts, for Outstanding Community Supporter of the Arts.

Entertainment for the awards program included the Columbia-based Misako Ballet Company, which was joined by guest dancer Lester Holmes for a piece choreographed by Eva Anderson. Pianist Brant Challacombe played during several segments of the program. Additional entertainers and an art auction also contributed to the celebratory mood.