On a table in the Canterna family breakfast nook in Linthicum is a brigade of Beanie Babies dressed in pastel net tutus, their heads crowned with tiny beribboned wreaths.
The whimsy of these dolls, which are being sold at local ballet schools to help pay the travel expenses for the two dancing Canterna sisters, belies the seriousness of the occasion they support.
Tomorrow, 15-year-old Adrienne will set off for the International Ballet Competition, which begins Saturday in Jackson, Miss. The prestigious competition takes place in Jackson every four years. In the intervening years, it is held in Moscow, Paris and Varna, Bulgaria.
In one sense, Adrienne has been preparing for this two-week event for the past year. In another, she's been getting ready all her life.
"I remember wanting to be a ballet dancer at 5," says Adrienne.
'Something for them to do'
Sally Canterna says she didn't know what she was starting when she sent her daughters, Adrienne and Ashley, 13, to ballet lessons as preschoolers.
"It was just something for them to do," she says of their classes with Edna Lee in Glen Burnie and Susan Ina in Linthicum.
But the girls knew differently. Their passion for dance was so all-consuming that their parents built a practice studio adjacent to their bedroom on the second floor of the family home. For four years, the girls have been home-schooled by their mother so they have more time to concentrate on dance.
And now Adrienne is of an age to make the jump from prodigy to professional.
Competing against pros
She is entering the competition in which Mikhail Baryshnikov and Amanda McKerrow of the American Ballet Theater came to the world's attention as medalists.
Adrienne is one of the youngest entrants in the junior division (for ages 15 to 18). Though gifted, as her record of national prizes and citations proves, she is not as experienced as many of her competitors, who already dance with professional companies.
This doesn't faze her. "I knew when I thought about entering that the junior division would start at 15, and I'd be 15 by then. If I need to go back in four years, then I'll be the youngest senior," says the teen-ager. "It's good exposure and good experience, and it's very publicized."
Accustomed to winning
All this sounds very career-conscious and media-savvy. Indeed, Adrienne is poised and certain as she says her goal is to dance with the American Ballet Theater, and that she won't settle for anything less.
"If you're good enough and entertaining enough and crowd-pleasing enough, they'll use you," she says confidently.
She's accustomed to being a winner. The current title-holder for Dance Masters of America's mid-Atlantic region, she is a past national winner and will compete for the national title again in New York in July. She also is the reigning Miss Star Power, a national entertainment showcase based in Orlando, Fla.
Ashley is Junior Miss Star Power.
But Adrienne also is a teen-ager who grins and waggles her eyebrows just like any other when she points out that her next birthday -- Nov. 6 -- will usher in the age of driving. After all the dance events of her summer are over in August, she'll spend her time learning to drive.
Right now, the girl is all legs, especially in dance clothes and pointe shoes. A recent growth spurt elongated her to 5 feet, 5 1/4 inches. With the extra 6 1/2 inches gained in her pointe shoes, she's as tall as a ballerina can be. Any taller and she'd tower over too many men to be assured a compatible partner. And no ballet company wants a female dancer, however many prizes she's won, who can't be partnered.
For the competition, Adrienne is paired with an old friend, Rasta Thomas, a previous gold medalist (at Varna in 1996) who studied at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington and spent last season with the Hartford (Conn.) Ballet.
They first performed together at 10 or 11, says Sally Canterna.
The couple is being coached in their three pas de deux by Dawei Zhang, a former member of the Shanghai Ballet, who was Thomas' coach for Varna.
Adrienne has chosen the virtuoso "Corsaire" pas de deux from the approved list of classical pas de deux. She and Thomas also will dance two contemporary duets: "Shogun" by Ivonicie Satie and "Unfolding" by Vladimir Anguelov, who teaches at the Kirov Academy.
Her solos will be two 19th-century standards: Diana's variation from "Diana and Actaeon," by Jules Perrot (the choreographer of "Giselle"); and Amor's whirlwind variation from the dream ballet in "Don Quixote" by Marius Petipa, who choreographed most of the great Russian story-ballets, including "Swan Lake."
"'Diana' takes a lot of control. I guess you'd say it's mellow," Adrienne says. 'Amor," by contrast, is all over in just 45 breathless seconds, she says.