Arts fest balances the near and far


This year's Columbia Festival of the Arts will feature performers from all over the world, including a band from Ireland, a dance company from Arizona, and musicians from Cuba.

Homegrown talent will have a strong showing as well, with artists ranging from the Junkyard Saints to the Glenelg High School Jazz Band.

Nichole Hickey, managing director and chief executive officer of the festival, said the annual event started in 1987 with a strong focus on local artists, but over time it expanded to include national and international performers.

In the past few years, she said, the pendulum has swung back to the local, and now the festival has found a balance between talent from nearby and far away.

Local and nonlocal artists will work together for several events. The Arizona dancers will train students from county high schools, for example, and the Irish band, Gaelic Storm, will be introduced by the Columbia-based Teelin School of Irish Dance, which will teach members of the audience a few moves.

This year's event, which will run June 10-19, will feature -- as always -- musicians, dancers, artists and children's events, held in a variety of venues around Howard County.

For the second year, a kinetic art parade will take place, with contestants showing off their movable masterpieces in a parade through the center of Columbia.

Contestants who don't mind getting wet can try their hands at racing a 200-yard course in boats they create from corrugated cardboard.

To register, go to www.hocoboatfloat, or call 410-740-9809.

The festival will begin Friday, June 10, with an evening of jazz at Historic Oakland in Columbia, sponsored in partnership with the African Art Museum of Maryland.

The event, which is to start at 7:30 p.m., will feature saxophonist Don Braden with his quartet, as well as jazz guitarist Jerry Gordon, local jazz vocalist Saisa, the Greg Hatza ORGANization and the nine-piece Rhumba Club. The $55 ticket includes a buffet dinner.

June 11 and 12 are the days for the outdoor LakeFest event, which will be free. Around Lake Kittamaqundi both days, there will be face-painters, clowns, strolling artisans, a street-painting contest and a kids' arts and crafts tent, Hickey said.

In the covered portion of the garage, 42 local and regional fine artists will display and sell their wares.

The lineup of performers June 11, starting at 5 p.m., will include Honky Tonk Confidential, a retro country group; a Latin duo called Alma and Niurka; the local Junkyard Saints, and Terrance Simien, a zydeco-fusion artist from Louisiana.

On June 12, starting at noon, the big stage will feature comedic acting from Shakespeare's Greatest Hits; then Masks, Melodies, and Make-Believe: Special Arts of Chinese Opera; followed by the Thrillbillies; Alma and Niurka; the Glenelg High School Jazz Band with guest artist Carl Filipiak; the ska band Pie Tasters, and world-music dancers One World Tribe.

At the Rouse Theatre on June 11, starting at 2 p.m., the Columbia Jazz Band will take a tour of modern music, in a program titled "From Dixieland to Big Band." Tickets are $10-$15. "They're inviting all the kids in the audience to come on the stage, and they're going to do an 'instrument petting zoo,' " Hickey said.

Also on June 11, in partnership with the Howard County library system, the Oscar-winning film King Gimp will be shown at the central library at 3 p.m., with the filmmakers on hand to discuss it. The event is free.

At 8 p.m. June 13, Second City, the comedy troupe, will perform. Second City sold out when it came to the arts festival in 2003, Hickey said, so she advises buying tickets early. The cost is $20-$30.

At 8 p.m. June 14, the acclaimed Neville Brothers will appear. Tickets are $40-$55.

On June 15 at Centennial Park, Gaelic Storm, a band from Ireland, will give a free outdoor concert at 6:30 p.m. But before it starts, the local Teelin School of Irish Dance will offer a free step-dance workshop at 5:30 p.m.

"Then when Gaelic Storm comes on, you can just boogie," Hickey said.

On June 16, the visual and performing artists Phonk! by Scrap Arts Music will perform at 7:30 p.m. at the Rouse Theatre. "They take scrap materials and turn them into 3-D sculptures that are musical instruments," Hickey said. "It's so high-energy. It's just extraordinary." Tickets are $20-$35.

In another example of the local and nonlocal working together, the Nebellen dance company, based in Arizona, will conduct workshops for three days with 36 area high school students, culminating with performances June 17 at the Rouse Theatre.

The matinee will begin at 2 p.m. and the evening show will start at 8 p.m. Tickets will be $10-$40.

On June 17, in partnership with the Howard County library system, a program called "Lead On, Harriet" will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the central library.

The hands-on lesson in leadership will teach youngsters about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. It will be free of charge and appropriate for children ages 8 and older, Hickey said.

That will be followed June 19 with a literary discussion called "Signifying Freedom," sponsored by HoCoPolitSo and the library system, a discussion of the Underground Railroad and the quilts that were made and used to give messages to travelers.

On Saturday, June 18, the Rouse Theatre will be the site of costumes, magic and illusion as Imago Theatre's production of FROGZ takes the stage for performances at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. "It's wild and wacky," Hickey said. The cost is $25-$45.

The festival's grand finale will be the U.S. premier of Tango Flamenco, a touring company that has created a fusion of Argentinian flamenco and classical Spanish dance, Hickey said. Tango Flamenco will appear at 7:30 p.m. June 19 at the Rouse Theatre. Tickets will be $40-$55.

"It's hot, it's passionate, it's high drama," Hickey said. "It's really something."

She was talking about Tango Flamenco, but she could just as well have been referring to the whole festival.

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