It's been nearly three years since A Labor of Love — created by Carolyn Kelemen in the late 1980s to assist victims of AIDS — last brought a joyous evening of music and dance to the Smith Theatre. On Oct. 22, A Labor of Love will return with a new mission, as "Dancing for Divas" celebrates 50 years of Columbia's art in tribute to Columbia's pioneer women dancers, teachers and choreographers.
Saturday's upcoming performances, directed (once again) by Carol Graham Lehan with Hammer on piano, will pay tribute to Howard County "divas" Eva Anderson, Doris Lignon, Valerie Lash and Toby Orenstein.
"I've known all of our 'divas' since the mid-70s," Kelemen said. "I taught dance at HCC, choreographed shows for Toby's kids, performed with the Eva Anderson Dancers and my daughter, Michele Kelemen (NPR), was married at the Museum of African Art."
A portion of the evening's proceeds will support the Howard Community College Foundation for Helping Hands Fund and dance scholarships.
Television and film actress Adria Tennor, who graduated from Wilde Lake High in 1988, is flying to her hometown from Los Angeles to co-emcee the benefit with Broadway performer Rick Ryder, a Centennial graduate, in tribute to Toby Orenstein.
Orenstein founded and remains artistic director of the Columbia Center of Theatrical Arts, which has been nurturing young talent for more than 40 years.
Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia has received over 70 Helen Hays nominations since it opened in 1979; Orenstein was awarded Best Director of a Resident Musical for "Jekyll and Hyde" in 2003.
Tennor said she met Orenstein through the Howard County Public School System Mentoring program during her last two years in high school. Chris Ott, one of Toby's staff members at her dinner theater, was Tennor's mentor.
Tennor said she was working on directing a student production of Larry Shue's "The Foreigner," and Orenstein suggested she attend rehearsals at Toby's Dinner Theatre. Orenstein also allowed Tennor ( who was into dance) to fill in for absent actresses while choreographing "Jesus Christ Superstar."
"For me, it was so fantastic to have such a strong, business owner, director and role model who was a woman in the arts so early in my life," Tennor said. "She was a real contributor to the Columbia arts scene; she helped make it was it is today - a magnet and mecca for the arts."
And although her professional career began as an actress — Tennor has appeared regularly on "Mad Men" and, last year, in an episode of "NCIS" — she said she is returning to directing, a "skill set I began honing with Toby."
Her first film, "Cracked," won Best Director of a Short Film in 2015 at the Independent Filmmakers Showcase in Beverly Hills.
"I am now finding investors to make my first feature, which won the 2016 CineStory Fellowship for best screenplay; [it is] a drama about a woman who returns home to care for her estranged, developmentally disabled mother," she said.
The Young Columbians from the Columbia Center of Theatrical Arts, past and present, will perform for Orenstein, too.
Eva Anderson will be honored at the benefit for founding and directing Eva Anderson Dancers Ltd., the longest running dance company in Howard County (and in the state), which closed in 2004 after 35 years.
"I feel the contributions I made to Columbia, the state and Baltimore were important," Anderson said. "I'm very happy to have been able to make those contributions."
Misako Ballet will perform two pieces — a Japanese ballet and Anderson's signature "Sycopation." The head of Morgan's dance department, Dr. Charles Carter, has created a "serious piece" for Anderson's tribute, Kelemen said.
In 1980, "diva" Doris Lignon founded the African Art Museum of Maryland — Columbia's first museum — with her late husband, Claude.
On its website, director Lignon writes that the museum "is one of only three museums of its kind in the USA devoted exclusively to the art of Africa. Of those three, it is the only one founded by an African American."
The African Art Museum has been recognized as one of the top 10 places to visit in Howard County.
Jazz vocalist Siasa will sing for Lignon.
Valerie Lash, Howard Community College Arts Collective executive producer, is a professor of theatre and dean of the Arts and Humanities Division. In 1993, she received the Howie Award for Arts Educator of the Year from the Howard County Arts Council. In 2003, she was inducted into Howard County Women's Hall of Fame.
Columbia's first dance teacher Marcia Lachman, who co-directs the Arabesque Dance Studio (which opened 50 years ago) in Oakland Mills with her daughter, Ginger Freint, will also be honored.
Caryl Maxwell, who teaches at Ballet With Cindy Velle in Long Reach, has choreographed a ballet to be performed by Velle's dancers.
L'Eoile Ballet is honoring Debra Devoe, who teaches dance at Glenelg Country School, in a classical ballet on pointe.
The "Bald Ballerina," Maggie Kirdurka — who Kelemen said is "an amazing young woman who continues to dance despite grueling breast cancer treatment" — will perform "Loss and Recovery, the Journey," a piece that earned her a win in a "Rising Stars" competition sponsored by the Howard County Arts Council.
Kelemen said Adrienne Canterna, a gold medalist ballerina from the Glen Burnie area, is "dancing especially for Maggie … partnered by one of the Bad Boys of Ballet, a fabulous company that has toured all over the world."
"Dancing for Divas" will be performed at HCC's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Oct. 22, at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $25 general; $10 for students, seniors 60+ and military; and $100 for sponsors. Tickets are available at the HCC box office or online at www.howardcc.edu/dancingfordivas.