Adrienne Canterna
Edited by: 
Kamyron Williams

Q: How did you begin Dancing?

I was three when I started dance classes and I never stopped. I became really serious about it when I was like six or seven, and I trained all day every day. I was highly competitive. And then I finished up my training at a boarding school for ballet, called the Kirov Academy and that was the end of my high school education. I started working professionally when I was really young, if professionally means you're getting paid for it. That doesn't make you a professional but you know what I mean. Dancing is all I ever wanted to do, I can't live without it. So, I've been super lucky to make it my career.

Q: What has working in the performing arts taught you about everyday life and how you engage in the world?

Well for me, I credit it mostly to ballet, to being a ballet student, a serious ballet student.

The structure, the discipline, the work ethic, the perseverance. The critical thinking. Especially in a world as harsh as ballet, it can make you weak but it made me strong. I've gone through a ton of things in my life personally that I never thought that I would, and I credit surviving them to three things: God, my parents, and ballet.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you started Sweet Bird Productions and what inspired you to move in that direction?

Honestly, what inspired me was, I left my husband and I needed a business. And I was in a really low and scary place in my life. All of a sudden I'm a single mother and working a full-time job while being a single mother. So, it's complicated, but I was already running my world.  It's one of those things where you kind of like we're like trauma, because the relationship was so traumatic for so long, but it’s like that one moment where like all of a sudden you realize, I haven't been in control of anything I haven't even been in control of my life, sort of, so I needed to take control and I started my production company. The reason it's a production company is because of my job. Before I started I was all ready to make shows. I was choreographing shows, providing tours for clients, performing all over the world, dancing choreographing so like I was already doing all those things I just wasn't in charge of it basically. And at that point in my life, I had to be in charge of it, or I had to just quit. It was kind of like one or the other. So, I didn't know. I didn't know anything about starting or running a business. I didn't even have anything of my own, in terms of legally and like on paper. So like that was a huge thing but I started it and I am continuously learning on the daily, five years later as to how to work and run it.

The pandemic teaches you it's like okay if you can't dance like you still have, you still have to like have and find that self-worth that validation that like positivity and purpose in your life like because you yes you feel like you are a dancer but like it's not the only thing that you are or can do. Constantly re-evaluating that is important, obviously but yeah that's why I started it, and it was the best thing I did besides have my daughter.

Q: Can you talk about some challenges in your professional career as a performer as a choreographer as a founder of a production company?

Basically all of those things, and just being a woman. Being a of being a female in this industry is like a very spotlight sort of role, whether it be as a dancer which I have been as a choreographer which I happen and as a director, which I have been all produce, or have produced challenges because I'm a woman mostly because there are very few female choreographers. There are very few female directors or like theater owners, or I mean there's just like I deal with very few women, which means I deal with mostly men. And even when I was performing, I never worked with a female. I never worked under a female director.I had female teachers but I never had female bosses, so it's like, it was, it was you always felt like it was a man's world So, and then in different stages of that dealing with it being a woman as a dancer and then as a choreographer and then as a director you. You want to be seen differently in each role, but that's really difficult as well. I don't know I feel like the normal things you just kind of overlook or at least I have which is, you know, it's challenging to like, you know, be thin enough and it's challenging too, you know to take a class every day or my hips hurt or whatever like those are just things that again like when you're, or at least for me like when you're growing up like in your in ballet school like if you don't recognize that that stuff is gonna be your life every day then you need to just like, peace out because those are just, perks of the job, basically, well not perks but, they're just the job. The challenges that I didn't anticipate we're always dealing with men and trying to figure out my role, and how to be respected and taken seriously without being respected our taken seriously, basically.

Q: How do you think dance can be a platform for social justice issues?

I mean, if success is all relative. It's hard to find purpose in something like dance, unless you use your platform, right, because if you gain enough eyes and attention, then you can talk about anything, you can be about anything, you can push any agenda. So, I tried to use my audience, which has luckily been quite large. To be an advocate for domestic violence and to be an advocate for diversity and inclusivity. I hire anyone and everyone that I think would be best for my show which in essence is a pretty diverse cast. So, basically anything that I like to partner up and to collaborate with other women. I like to be really vocal about all those things and because I'm at a certain level in the industry. I have been able to make some change and, you know, be about that. Be about the things that I'm passionate about and that are important and that are like you said, social and justices. It's all a matter of taking control of your audience whoever that is, and just making them listen.

Q: Can you talk about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you and your life and your artistry?

We were in France, for what was supposed to be a six week 30 city tour. We left on March 1 and a week later we were shutdown. Force majeure was enforced, and everyone had suddenly lost their pay for the next 5 weeks. Our tour has been rescheduled for either September or October but who knows if that will even happen. Everything in my current life has been postponed, I was supposed to get married June 5, and my bachelor plans leading up to were also postponed. The month of May was the 30th anniversary of my High School Alma matter Kirov Academy. It was supposed to be a huge alumni celebration and I was to choreograph a 30-minute piece with live music. On top of that, I'm recovering from multiple stress fractures in my foot so I'm not even really able to dance. I was gonna push through the tour but, I mean for my foot, it's a blessing that all of this happened because I never would have made it. I was supposed to be in a boot before we even left so I would have probably crushed my foot but yeah I can't even dance the way I would like to even train here in my own home. So, it's been tough, and it's been sad for me mostly because I do enjoy employing people and giving people a job that they love with traveling and performing. I love what I do, and for all of it, like not even just like one part of it to be taken away was quite difficult. Its been a big revelation of time homeschooling my 12-year-old daughter, which I never wanted to do. But no, she's great and does most of it herself. My small business isn't a "regular" small business, and applying for loans and additional support has been just super strange.

Q: Have you been able to move anything online and or what have you been working on during this time?

During the first month of the pandemic, I didn't really work much. I was and I'm still recovering from an injury. I turned my focus away from dance and started to volunteer. I started to try and be a little bit more useful to the people and places around me currently. I don't know, I just wasn't able to feel a connection the way I do when I'm performing or directing.

so I just thought okay we'll just learn how to do something else basically and I was, I was compelled to do a lot more volunteer work. I've been teaching IG live classes and private zoom lessons. It's been quite exciting, working with students from all over the world! I taught a student from South Carolina last week and I have another student from Tokyo. Between cooking, cleaning, reading yoga, volunteering, and being a mom. My daughter is 12, so I really hit the jackpot in terms of quarantine kids. I only have one and she's extremely self-sufficient!

Q: What would you like to see change or shift when this pandemic ends, in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

I don't know because I'm not a part of any unions anymore. I don’t know how to change it. But I would like to feel a little bit more protected outside of a contract, which I would imagine would be some sort of union. There's all of these relief funds (during the pandemic) and things like that for artists. I think maybe that (the artist relief funds) would be great for more independent artists because that's mainly what my dancers are even though I tend to use the same ones for, you know, all the different projects and things that I do. Besides, unemployment, it would be great to have some sort of structure in place that is a little bit more protected. I haven't quite given it a ton of thought, because it's quite discouraging. And it feels, I don't know maybe far away or not really like my real life right now because I'm not doing it, and I'm trying to like focus on, you know the other, the other things in my life and the other people and  I tend to not really think big like that I think I tend to think more so individually like how I can change it and not like how I can change something big, in its entirety right now.

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