At 15, a ballet star in the making Dance: Adrienne Canterna is on a road already traveled by ballet superstars. But first, she needs her driver's license.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Starting today, Adrienne Canterna will hang up her pointe shoes for a few weeks and be a teen-ager.

She will spend the last part of a very busy summer learning to drive, as she looks forward to her 16th birthday in November.

She's jumped all her earlier hurdles with ease and grace. The latest was her gold medal in the junior women's division of the International Ballet Competition, held in June in Jackson, Miss.

The long-legged girl from Linthicum is the youngest winner of the competition, which has launched the careers of such stellar dancers as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Amanda McKerrow of American Ballet Theater.

For Adrienne, the event was gold all the way. Not only did she take the medal for the 15-to-18 age group, but her partner, Rasta Thomas, took the gold for the senior men's division. He is just 17 but entered in the senior category because he won the gold medal for junior men at the 1996 competition, held in Varna, Bulgaria.

And their contemporary pas de deux, "Shogun," won the Capezio choreography award for its creator, Ivonicie Sate of Brazil.

Going into the competition, Adrienne was cool and professional. "If I'm eliminated, there's nothing I can do afterward except try and get better. All this is to make me a better dancer," she told The Sun just before leaving for Jackson.

When she came back with her gold medal, which hangs on a red, white and blue ribbon, the young dancer seemed scarcely less poised. "I felt good going in and even better coming out," she said matter-of-factly.

Looking for a career in a profession that grabs increasingly younger dancers, she had thought the competition would at least mean exposure. "I had figured going in that I'd get, maybe not offers, but people coming up and saying: 'We'd love to have you in our company.' "

The first fruit of her medal came just after she accepted it. Edward Villella offered her a season contract with Miami City Ballet.

After consultation with her mother, Adrienne turned it down. "I wanted her to finish school," said Sally Canterna, "and it seemed like a lot for a 15-year-old to handle."

Adrienne and her 13-year-old sister, Ashley, also an accomplished dancer, are home-schooled. Their commitment to dance is so profound that two years ago, their parents built a dance studio adjacent to the girls' bedroom on the second floor of the house.

This gives them a space in which to practice anytime, but it doesn't eliminate the need to commute to almost-daily classes, coaching sessions and rehearsals. When Adrienne gets her driver's license, her mother may feel a little less like a shuttle service.

The competition, which took both girls and their parents to Jackson for most of June, was the frosting on a far-flung summer.

Right after Jackson, Adrienne went to New York to compete in the Dance Masters of America contest. She won the national title two years ago. Then Ashley had to go to Orlando to hand over the Junior Miss Star Power crown to her successor in this national entertainment showcase. Adrienne is the reigning Miss Star Power.

Also, both girls model for a dancewear catalog, which means photo shoots in Pennsylvania.

This past weekend, Adrienne and Rasta Thomas fulfilled a long-scheduled commitment to dance at the International Evenings of Dance in Vail, Colo. This two-week event is a series of workshops for professional dancers, with performances in the evenings by ensembles from the Bolshoi Ballet, Gzhel Russian Folk Dancers and New York City Ballet.

Adrienne and Rasta danced on the final gala, which featured couples from the Compania Nacional de Danza, Ballets de Monte Carlo, New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet. The program featured a new quartet for Canterna, Thomas and the New York City Ballet couple, Miranda Weese and Julien Ringdahl, choreographed by Steven Greenston.

Adrienne is the youngest dancer and the only non-professional ever invited to the event. Producer Katherine C. Kersten took a chance on her because she was the partner of Rasta Thomas. A darkly handsome dancer, the son of Arab-American parents, Thomas spent last season as a principal dancer with the Hartford (Conn.) Ballet and, with two gold medals, is clearly a rising star.

Sitting on the sun porch of her house, Adrienne, her long legs even longer in short shorts, outlined the year ahead. It is full but not frantic.

She and Thomas -- who obviously don't want to break up a winning team -- will be guest artists with the Russian Ballet Theater of Wilmington, Del., in October and with a ballet in upstate New York for its "Nutcracker." They'll be featured in the opening gala of the Japan Competition in February, and she is considering an offer from the Ballet Nacional de Colombia to perform in its full-length "Don Quixote" with Jaime Gomez Diaz, whom she met at Jackson.

"It'll be cool to go to Japan," she says, sounding her age. "And I might compete. I don't know yet."

What brought the Canterna sisters to dance is something their parents are still trying to figure out. Neither one -- Sally, an artist and a gifted seamstress who makes many of the girls' costumes, and John, a regional sales manager for Alcon Surgical, which makes lens implants for post-cataract patients -- is in the least willowy. Their sons -- Andy, 22, who attends Elon College in North Carolina, and Tony, 18, who goes to Anne Arundel Community College -- are athletic in a stocky, big-boned, all-American way.

Somehow, from this unprepossessing genetic background, Adrienne and Ashley have emerged with perfect ballet bodies: slim, flexible, with short torsos, long legs, long arms and long necks.

Sally Canterna began sending them to ballet classes as preschoolers, "just something for them to do." They still loyally take dance classes at Edna Lee's school in Glen Burnie and Susan Ina's school in Linthicum.

"The other dancers [in the competition] all came from big-name ballet schools or they were dancing already in companies," said Sally Canterna. "And then there's Adrienne, from Edna Lee's ballet school. Yeah, right."

Their parents have invested heavily in the girls' dancing, it is true. Sally Canterna estimates that Jackson cost them about $10,000 in dance classes, coaching fees, costume rental, videotaping sessions, transportation, lodging and tuition for Ashley (who took the festival's daily master classes at the highest level of proficiency).

But no one can explain how the girls had the raw material of ballet in their bones and blood.

Adrienne herself isn't sure, any more than she knows what set her above her competitors. "I was totally calm on stage," she said, "especially dancing with Rasta. He's a wonderful partner.

"The worst part, every night, was right after they call your name and you run out on stage before the lights go up. But then, you just do what you do in rehearsal."

It wasn't all work. Like any girls their age, Adrienne and Ashley enjoyed their time off the stage and out of the classroom. "We went to the zoo and on a picnic," said Ashley. And every night after the competition rounds were over, they swam in the hotel pool until their parents made them come to bed.

"I took a lot of naps," said Adrienne, though it's hard to see when, between rehearsals at sites all over Jackson and the nightly performances.

Sally Canterna eyed her daughters in the way of that mother fowl who hatched the Ugly Duckling and found out it was really a swan.

"I just want to get through August," she said. Only she knows whether she meant the break from ballet or Adrienne's driving lessons.

Pub Date: 8/10/98

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