Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dance review: Rasta Thomas's Bad Boys -- and girl -- electrify at Rinker

Rasta Thomas in flight.

By Sharon McDaniel

Each of Rasta Thomas’ three nights at the Kravis Center packed the little Rinker Playhouse to the gills.

An imaginative lighting plot kept even the bare black-box stage looking good for the Bad Boys of Dance. And the eight dancers of enormous ability and facility – including Thomas and his wife of two years, Adrienne Caterna-Thomas -- could be mesmerizing in the sheer volume of movement they could sustain.

Although Thomas began his career as a ballet and martial-arts prodigy, he has been redefining himself in his 20s. He unveiled one shift in 2007 at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival: his new company, the Bad Boys of Dance.

Friday night at Kravis, the Bad Boys mixed a fizzy, knock-out cocktail of MTV, Broadway and street slang called Rock the Ballet. Choreographed by the Thomases, troupe members and others, Act I was a wildly unpredictable variation on boy-meets-girl. Act II was Caterna-Thomas’ 25-minute rush of whitewater: explosive, competition-style dance scenes set to rock hits by Michael Jackson, Queen and Prince.

The eight artists took contemporary dance off-road, into the bone-jarring terrains of techno, hip-hop and gymnastics. Yet they also waltzed, tapped and tangoed. They often encouraged the audience to clap along rhythmically to the upbeat tunes. But in true bad-boy fashion, they relished the shocked laughter and shouts spawned by convention-crunching, booty shaking and shirtless stud-muffin gyrations.

And yes, Virginia, there was actual ballet. Suddenly, out of the whirlwind of energy and activity would spin a sequence of grand jetés, pirouettes and fouettés – just enough to make your jaw drop, and realize that, yeah, these guys – and girl – don’t just think they can dance. In a wink, the precise, beautifully executed classic moves were gone, dissolving back into the more radical flow or the dramatic endings.

At their best, the eight put the flawless in technique and the razzle-dazzle in rhythm. Thomas still has a high-speed energy, a presence and competitive edge that make him a stand-out even in all-male ensembles.

For the show’s encore, he reprised Vladimir Angelov’s Bumblebee, a bit slower than in 2005 for Miami’s International Festival of Ballet. But hey, he hadn’t danced an entire program before that debut, nor did he have an 18-month-old daughter, whom he and his wife brought on stage during Friday night’s final bows.

And petit Caterna-Thomas is a sparkplug; no need for fire-engine red or hot pink costumes. If the couple’s Act I pas de deux, I’m Your Man (music by Michael Bublé), was a steamy eyeful, Thomas’ emotional solo Heartbroken (Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine) hit every rhythmic mark regardless of the sudden leaps or back flips.

Comedy ran throughout the show. But an indelible memory is of I Love Lucy: five men dancing with life-size plastic blow-up dolls. To the strains of the Habanera from Georges Bizet's Carmen, the gentlemen partnered their “ballerinas” in classical formalities at their funniest.

Of the six Bad Boys, Michael Keefe was outstanding in solos as well as his many duets with Caterna-Thomas. And real personalities along with all-out showmanship marked appearances by Robbie Nicholson and Anthony Colantone.

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