Tokyo Disney Resort Aerialist Talks Life Overseas
Adrianna Grieco '19 shares the journey to her dream job in Japan and how her year has unfolded.
After graduating from SUNY Brockport with a degree in dance and health science, Adrianna Grieco '19 chased her fairytale all the way to the DisneySea theme park at the Tokyo Disney Resort. In a Q&A with The Port, the principal aerialist reflects back on her journey to professional performance and looks ahead to adventures in a post-COVID-19 world.
How did your hobby of dance evolve into a unique profession?
"I was enrolled in dance as a recreational sport until I was about 14 when I started competing in regional and national dance competitions. I come from a musical family and have always loved dance. However, I never thought it would end up as my career. In high school and college, I focused mainly on ballet and modern dance, which are very technical forms of dance that are necessary to continue on in the professional world. Once I graduated from Brockport, I wanted to experiment with aerial/circus skills as an addition to my dance background. To be a dedicated dancer, you need to be very disciplined. From what I've learned in the business so far, those who are versatile are (in most instances) more likely to be hired."
How did you land your role as a principal aerialist?
"Most dance auditions will start with a ballet/technical round, a jazz round, and maybe a third round that is more stylized to the specific job being casted for. You are given a number, and in between each round, you listen to hear if your number is called to stay for the next round. If your number is not called, that is the end of the audition for you. Most times, auditions in large cities have upwards of 300 to 400 people auditioning for the same roles. I have always thought that Disney would be a good fit for me. I decided to take the leap and audition in Toronto, Canada, back in August. This audition also included acting improv, animation, and a strength test for aerial work. After a nearly seven-hour day, I was among one of the seven people who were being considered for a contract. Casting directors will not contact you until they have finished the global casting tour, including large cities in Australia and throughout Europe. In October, I was offered my first professional contract and my dream role! It was a painfully long two months to wait and see if I would get an offer. Although the audition process is one of the most exhausting aspects of this business, I was very fortunate to have landed a job on my first audition after graduation."
What are some of the ups and downs?
"My contract is certainly one of the most physically demanding of the foreign performer contracts. I had to learn a new skill on an apparatus that I did not have previous experience with. As a soloist in the show, I have to combine acting/characterization, lip syncing in Japanese, and aerial work in a 360° theater. All of those elements combined were a challenge for me at first. I had to adapt to a new country, culture, job, and friendships all at the same time. But, I really enjoyed how busy my training schedule was and am proud of the work I put in."
What is it like living in Japan?
"When I first moved to Japan, I was expecting to see a lot of the common Japanese stereotypes, such as futuristic robots and bustling touristy areas that flood the city of Tokyo. Although some of those stereotypes are true at times, Tokyo is littered with peaceful shrines, clean streets, extremely efficient public transportation, and the kindest people. I once witnessed a woman running through one of the busiest train stations in the world to return a cell phone that someone had left on the train. Japanese people are exceptionally honest and respectful. Because I had experienced living abroad before Japan, I found it quite easy to adjust to living away from home. My advice to people moving or visiting abroad would be to embrace the weird. If you look at things that are different from what you're used to in a negative way, it will take away from your experience."
How has COVID-19 impacted your experience there?
"The coronavirus has taken on a different trajectory here in Japan than in the United States. At first, Japan had the cruise line that was docked in Yokohama with about 700 cases. Tokyo Disney decided to close for about two weeks starting in late February and has been closed since. Since the rescheduling of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan started implementing social distancing practices, and we entered a state of "lockdown." Restrictions are far less here in Japan, while most businesses and restaurants are closed. Although I am sad that I'm not working at the moment, I am incredibly lucky to be living in such a wonderful city. As of right now, my life is not drastically different from what it would be in the U.S. We are encouraged to stay home, social distance, and wear a mask when out. One difference is that hair dressers are considered essential businesses here, so there are no riots about haircuts..."
How did your study-abroad experience in Australia prepare you for a post-graduation move overseas?
"My four years at Brockport allowed me to continue my passion for dance and performing. My experience abroad in Melbourne, Australia, pushed me outside my comfort zone and made me more independent. I realized that I could travel abroad as a solo female. Family and friends have called me a "world traveler," but the truth is, the more of the world you see, the more you realize how much you have left. Living in Australia was a great stepping stone to now living in a country that is predominantly non-English speaking. The reality of it is, in Australia I could blend into society easier than I can in Japan. Here, I am constantly noticed as a foreigner, whereas in Australia I wasn't until a conversation was struck. This has definitely given me some perspective on cultural differences and how they are viewed throughout different parts of the world."
What words of inspiration do you have for people who may be considering taking a risk in order to pursue their dream?
"After graduation, I thought that my degree in dance would never amount to more than adjudicating dance competitions or teaching. While those are both wonderful things, I never thought I had what it took to enter the professional world of performing. I thought I was burnt out or that maybe I just wasn't as good as I once was a few years ago. I auditioned for fun and for the experience, and it turned out to be the best decision of my life. Our own insecurities can hold us back from amazing opportunities. Life is too short to refrain from what your heart is telling you to pursue."
What's next for you?
"I am not entirely sure what my next move is, however this contract has given me the confidence to pursue performing longer than I imagined. Because of the coronavirus pause, I would love to stay longer in Japan. One childhood dream of mine is to tour as a dancer for Shania Twain. It sounds silly, but so did wanting to be a Disney princess! I hope to one day look back and be proud of the work that I put in to my performing career and the steps it took to achieve my goals."