D.C. DanceWatcher


Posted in Ballet, Contemporary ballet, Contemporary dance, Dance, Jazz dance by lisatraiger on February 4, 2012

Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance
“Rock the Ballet”
Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center
Montgomery College
Rockville, MD
February 3, 2012

By Lisa Traiger

© 2012 Lisa Traiger

Rasta Thomas, courtesy Parilla Theater, Montgomery College

“Warning! You may experience involuntary spontaneous participation. Welcome to ‘Rock the Ballet’!!”an announcer blares at the expectant crowd in the sold-out performing arts center tucked away in suburban Washington, D.C. They cheer, whoop, a few even chuckle. Music blasts and rock-concert-like smoke and lights set the bar for an evening at the theater that is not, by any stretch of the imagination, your grandmother’s ballet. In fact, notwithstanding top-billed company founder Rasta Thomas’s ballet-star status – he was the first American member of the then-Kirov Ballet – there’s not much ballet in the 80-minute, two-act production. There is plenty of dance, most of it performed barefooted by men clad in t-shirts and Levis who throw themselves into overdrive while a playlist of rock and pop classics from the likes of the Black Eyed Peas to U2, Coldplay, Prince, Dave Matthews Band, Queen and the king, MJ (the inimitable Michael Jackson) keeps the incessant beat.

Conceived for the attention-deficit and YouTube generation, “Rock the Ballet” resembles a few collected episodes of the Fox television hit “So You Think You Can Dance?” without the bitchy or overly flowery judges’ comments and the endless commercials. The evening, conceived by Thomas and his associate artistic director and resident choreographer, Adrienne Canterna-Thomas – who also happens to be his wife – features explosive dancing and astonishing tricks that elicit whoops and hollers from the audience and even the dancers.

But …

And, there is a definite, but …. Sure, these young men dance their hearts out. Credit should be given to Robbie Nicholson, James Boyd, Chase Madigan, Ryan Carlson, Lee Gumbs and Tim Olsen – all exquisitely trained in a specific brand of competition-style dance that combines a passel of ballet tricks with jazz, lyrical, hip hop and music-video-style dance. Thomas, too, still has it. At 30, his technique remains as crystalline as ever: perfect split jumps, so many pirouettes he surely drills a hole in the stage floor, and soaring revoltades – 540 degree turns that leave one’s mouth agape. He’s also the company heartthrob. Marked by a white-hot spotlight, his entrances and dramatic pauses or poses elicit screams from gaggles of young girls. And why not? Tall, dark and handsome, he’s got Ryan Gosling abs, a three-day growth of beard, and like the five other “ballet bad boys,” he’s really not too bad to take home to mama. With their polished technique, Gap-style t-shirts and body-beautiful builds, none of these boys spent much time hanging out on dark street corners doing untoward things real bad guys do, like dealing in drugs, women or stolen property. No one dances like that without putting in hours and hours each day at the studio and in Pilates and gyrotonic classes. Audiences are willing to suspend belief and buy into that “good boy/bad boy” premise as long as plenty of physical and hyper kinetic tricks ensue.

What disappoints most about Thomas’s premise, though, is that this one-time ballet wunderkind purports to sell a vision of ballet – his own warped vision? – for the 21st century. Yet, in an evening filled with hip bumps, chest thumps, pelvis thrusts, crotch grabs, knee-to-nose kicks, and more chases than a “Bourne Identity” flick, ballet comes in last place, behind the jazz, hip hop, bump-and-grind and three-minute competition pieces Canterna-Thomas strings together in an incessant blur so none stand out. They couldn’t have included a classical pas de deux or even Vlad Angelov’s show piece “The Bumblebee” to expand the tastes of newcomers? Sure the “boys” dance with flair but, aside from Thomas, they’re two-note wonders, either smiling or pouting with little in the way of emotional depth. But then again, how emotional can one get with the Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” Queen’s “We Will Rock You” or U2’s “Beautiful Day”? Canterna-Thomas throws in a Jacques Brel number – “Ne Me Quitte Pas” – but the group choreography offers dubious connection to Brel’s heartfelt heartbreak.

Canterna-Thomas carries most, but not all, of the blame for the vacuous choreography that feels like a night on the sofa watching 1980s and 1990s MTV videos. She has put little thought into an evening at the theater, eschewing development, climax and denouement for applause moments, cheap laughs and the de rigueur curtain-call encore. Thomas contributed a single number, the Habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen” (sung by Maria Callas, no less), most unfortunately danced by the men with blow-up plastic dolls in a campy, pseudo-sexy way that fizzles, much like one of the dolls when the air leaked out. Canterna-Thomas boldly puts herself center stage, swathed in sequins and miniskirts, in a few numbers as the mincing, slutty girl amid this gang of so-called bad boys. Her bleached blonde hair flowing, her hips grinding and eyelashes aflutter, she looks like a competition kid a bad dance mother spawned, all grown up, tricked out, and escaped from that awful reality show “Dance Moms.”

It would be easy to call it tasteless, but I don’t believe taste – or artistry, for that matter – had anything to do with what Thomas and Canterna-Thomas are aiming for. Kudos to the bad boys, who dance themselves into exhaustion. They sure sell tickets. And that’s what Thomas really wants. But, alas, it isn’t ballet, it isn’t art, and, it really is … bad.

© 2012 Lisa Traiger
Published February 4, 2012