Off stage, she's a stunning 5-foot-9 woman, with incredibly long arms and legs that seem to go on forever. When she dances, she stretches her arabesques and lengthens her high-flying leaps so she looks even taller — at least 7 feet from the tips of her toes to the top of her bald head.
Gutsy, original, a sensation just walking on stage, she's Howard County's own sweetheart dancer, Margaret "Maggie" Kudirka, a.k.a. "The Bald Ballerina." who will perform the coveted role of Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker" at the Jim Rouse Theater twice Saturday, Nov. 29.
Last summer, Maggie was dancing in New York City when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. The 23-year-old Maryland native soon returned home for surgery and treatment at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore. At the Ellicott City studio where she rehearses the "Snow Queen" variation — my favorite part in the ballet — Maggie appears even taller and more beautiful than her last local appearance when she received the 2013 Rising Star award for a contemporary ballet solo.
"Dance has always been my life," Kudirka said during a break, "But after being diagnosed it really became my life and the only thing that made me feel like myself."
She is as clear and direct as her dancing when she talks about her battle. "I have had to be a little more cautious some days because my body keeps changing due to chemo treatments, but I am slowly becoming more daring in class trying to get my technique back to the level it was."
Maggie can do astonishing feats — classical ballet, modern spirals and falls, and her signature one leg stretched toward the ceiling while the other remains balanced for as long as she wants it to be there. Few dancers jump higher, turn faster, or perform with as much shading and intelligence. With her intricate footwork and statuesque poses, she reigns on the stage like a goddess. And she is loved not just for her amazing movements, but for the warmth and joy she radiates from the stage.
As the Snow Queen, she welcomes the ballet's heroine, Clara, danced alternately by Andrea Fox and Rachel Elkins, to a magical land where dreams come true. The snow scene represents the quiet beauty of Petipa's choreography as we are carried away to the ice palace where snowflakes fall from the rafters and the corps of ballerinas, all dressed in white tutus, swirls to Tchaikovsky's dreamy music. Magic, indeed.
Director Svetlana Kratsova and her dancer-husband, Vadim Pijicov, have created a young company that dazzles. Their rendition of "The Nutcracker" is based on the Vaganova technique, so it's Russian through and through. Guest artists from the Kirov Academy and Maggie's solo, surrounded by a dozen young dancers who train at L'Etoile, add to the authenticity of the ballet which began in St. Petersburg in the late 19th century.
Watching one tall, lithe, extremely poised dancer at the rehearsal, one had to wonder how long she could pose on pointe like that, with one leg held high above her, before executing a particularly difficult turn. Meanwhile, featured dancers Anna Kraus, Camryn Damask, and Kylna Kaiser take off in a grand jete, then come to a poised landing as softly and quietly as a sugarplum fairy. Kylyna Kaiser makes her debut in the Arabian solo; Alexander Wang is the new Mouse King, and Demcy Grill dances the role of an exotic doll.