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Bad Boys of Dance: rocking the ballet

Bad Boys of Dance to perform in Nokia Concert Hall this Sunday, 7 pm.

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PHOTO: Herbert Schulze

The Bad Boy Dancers’ show Rock the Ballet may be approached in two opposite ways. «Sensational blockbuster» (Ballettanz) and «This is so cooool!!! (Twitter). Or: «Chippendales for toddlers» (The Independent) and «Worse than worst of the year» (The New York Times).

Chose what you will believe – both are right!

The fact, however, remains: in Helsinki where the troupe is now touring, two extra shows are in the pipeline – no matter they already had eight.

True: Rock the Ballet now goes by the title Rock the Ballet 2. Meaning that, at the public’s urgent request, the show touring the globe for years, with over 150 runs per year, has become «even better: more mature, on idea level; more exciting choreographically; more diverse musically,» as confirmed by the founder and leader of the troupe, Rasta Thomas, before the Sunday show in Tallinn.

The principle, however, stays the same. Classical ballet technique mixed with contemporary dance forms, Broadway and variety show stuff, jazz, hip-hop, plus acrobatics and martial arts. Six guys skilled in dance. And a girl – who else would one chase!? Wild acts. Pop music from Kanye West to Michael Jackson, The Bee Gees to David Bowie. To the backdrop of video on the wall. Unashamedly entertaining. Undeniably a phenomenon.

Pop Ballet – that’s the way the Bad Boys call it.

Also inspired by Bruce Lee

The 31 years old Rasta Thomas – a one time wunderkind of classical ballet, winning the Paris, Varna and Jackson contests aged 13, 15 and 16, respectively – no longer dances along. No time for that.

At the other side of the ocean, he’s already busy preparing the next Bad Boys production, a two act rock ballet Romeo and Juliet, with music from Prokofjev to Lady Gaga.

But OK, let’s make a trans-Atlantic call. Asking if the man has a crow to pick with ballet.

«Hello, bad boy speaking,» comes the answer.

Got the contact.

No crow, it appears. Rather restlessness, the constant kind. Just for that, some call Thomas a bad boy. No ordinary thing, for a ballet dancer to draw inspiration from Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee.

A good name for the troupe, anyway – strikes the eye!

The brilliant CV’d dancer has not stuck with any theatre, not the American Ballet Theatre, nor the Kirov (Mariinsky) Theatre. Yes, for a couple of months he managed to spend even in the St Petersburg ballet giant of up to 200 dancers, in 2001-2002. Being their first American, one of the very few foreigners.

«I was alone, very young, didn’t speak the language, couldn’t dance as much as was promised, was forgotten, plus the terrible cold,» the man explains. «A pity, as America has always warmly welcomed all Russian dancers. At least I understand now, why Barõšnikov left.»

And so he lived, Gypsy-like, for years – vainly searching a producer or a visionary, inspiring him or drawing the most out of him. Something of the sort of Sergei Djagilev and Vaslav Nižinski, before they separated.

Bad Boys of Dance was born in 2007 – Thomas only being 26 – following advice by Barõšnikov to listen to his heart. The heart said: if no troupe has felt like home, create your own.

U2 of ballet

But: what kind? «Our vision is pushing the male dance boundaries,» I read from one of the BBD declarations. Hey, where do you push them, after Nižinski? or Ted Shawn?

«Name me a real boys' band of ballet like U2 or Rolling Stones – that’s our goal,» he throws back the gauntlet. Another follows: «With mine own eyes I saw it, doing the classical ballet – old people only, in the seats. Need to change that! Therefore, ballet needs to be fun, closer to popular culture, more understandable to the younger generation, more available.»

He meaneth not that classical ballet is history. Rather the opposite is true: the chief end of Rock the Ballet being to spark an interest in the youth and far-from-ballet folks towards the art. For them to dare go see Swan Lake some day.

But what if they won’t go? If, instead, they’ll be demanding Rock the Ballet 3? And then 4 and then 5 and…? «I don’t think that they’d go straight form Rock the Ballet to buy Swan Lake tickets... But the seed will have been planted and even if dance, male dance in particular, is more highly valued as a result of it – any kind of it – I’d count it a victory.» Well, yes, but the criticism? Chippendales for toddlers and the rest of it, stinging perhaps? Rock the criticism?

Over the phone, across the ocean, I hear laughter. And then: «Yeah …!»

Bad Boys of Dance to perform in Nokia Concert Hall this Sunday, 7 pm.

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