Bad Boys of Dance: Let's get physical

By Raewyn Whyte

American dance company Bad Boys of Dance use charisma, technical daring and rock music in a show that has toured the world.

Rock the Ballet is a celebration of masculinity set to modern rock music. Photo / Supplied
Rock the Ballet is a celebration of masculinity set to modern rock music. Photo / Supplied

Rasta Thomas and the Bad Boys of Dance are on stage in Auckland next week with their touring production Rock the Ballet. A hit with audiences from the United States to Kazakhstan, Korea and Australia throughout its five-year run, the show has been acclaimed for its spectacular, sexy, crowd-pleasing dancing.

Set to songs by Michael Jackson, Queen, U2, Coldplay and Prince, it has been danced more than 1000 times throughout the world since it premiered in 2008.

It is no surprise that Rock the Ballet has been a big international success.

As the company's artistic director and lead dancer, ballet superstar Rasta Thomas, explains, the show was developed to provide audiences with a great night out.

"We set out to be the boy band of the dance world. We wanted to push the boundaries of male dancing and create the most exciting dance show possible.

"We wanted to attract a new, younger audience for dance, have them discover that going to the ballet could be fun and that you can leave the theatre happy at the end of a show.

"So we chose classic rock music that everyone could relate to - mood-setting music with an emotional punch and a strong groove for us to dance to. And we found the hottest young dancers around to showcase their amazing technique, along with their grace, charm, passion and masculinity.

"Our style of dancing is a hybrid. It starts with ballet, then fuses it with hip-hop and jazz and tap and street dance and Broadway and martial arts and gymnastics - whatever we are inspired to add. It's a highly physical kind of dancing with an impressive array of spectacular moves and awesome athletic feats.

"It's theatrical and showy, fun and sexy and fresh. It has a wide appeal, especially for newcomers to ballet, and it's very entertaining."

Each of the Bad Boys of Dance is technically accomplished, and has achieved distinction as a performer. And each of them also has the X factor - the kind of charisma that engages the audience and takes them along for the ride.

None more so than lead dancer Rasta Thomas, renowned for a magnetic presence which rivets the audience's attention on him.

He is regarded as one of the best ballet dancers of his generation, internationally respected for the extreme clarity of his movement, and the explosive strength which enables him to perform jaw-dropping leaps which he lands with apparent ease.

Rasta Thomas started ballet classes at age 7 as a punishment for misbehaving in martial arts classes.

Initially he hated ballet, but soon found he was able to excel, and aged 11, he moved from California to Washington to join the Kirov Academy of Ballet.

Over the next six years, with additional training from a number of teachers, he won a triad of gold medals at international ballet competitions - the Jury Prize at the Paris International Dance Competition; the Junior Gold Medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition; and, aged 17, the gold medal, a scholarship, and a cash prize at the United States International Ballet Competition.

Thomas went on to sustain a stellar international guest career with leading companies throughout the world, including the Kirov Ballet in Russia, dancing some of the greatest roles created for the male principal dancer, before turning his attention towards Hollywood, and Broadway in search of another kind of dance that would challenge and excite him. After a stint with Twyla Tharp's Stepping Out, he decided to create a company of his own.

Rock the Ballet celebrates masculinity and the tendency of men to lark about with their mates, and to compete with one another at the drop of a hat.

By adding a sassy Pretty Girl guest artist as everybody's love interest, and encouraging flirtation, the ballet offers entertaining glimpses of men's preening behaviours as well.

On the New Zealand tour, the Pretty Girl is danced by Adrienne Canterna-Thomas, the show's choreographer, and Rasta Thomas' wife. Like him, she is a Kirov Academy of Ballet scholarship graduate - it was at that school where they first met and became dance partners. She has her own roster of dance awards, and has also danced guest roles with companies in the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Caribbean.

A freelance dance coach, teacher and choreographer, Canterna-Thomas is the founder and artistic director of Pretty Girls of Dance, a companion company to the Bad Boys of Dance. The two companies share Maryland facilities and a blog at bbdchic.blogspot.com, and each provides the other with guest performers for their shows.

Rock the Ballet has no set as such. It is danced against a swiftly changing background of projections designed by William Cusick. The display intermixes photos, drawings and computer animations, ranging from scenes of Paris to abstract swirls and sweeping lines, and song lyrics. Costumes are street clothes. For the men it's mostly jeans and T-shirts, or jacket, shirt tie and dressy pants, or bare chests with short shorts. The Pretty Girl has a series of short flirty dresses, tutu skirts and jazz tights.

Thomas is happy that Rock the Ballet has done everything he set out to achieve, and has provided great entertainment for thousands of people over the past five years. Nevertheless, he concedes that five years is possibly long enough for this show, and he is planning a new work to take its place next year.

Performance
What:
Rock the Ballet

Where and when: Bruce Mason Centre, June 12-17

- NZ Herald

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