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Monday, November 11

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Dance Thu Oct 20 2011

Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance

For Rasta Thomas, when it comes to dancing, it's all about artistry, innovation and acrobatic choreography. Here, the founder and director of Bad Boys of Dance discusses the company's diverse appeal and why they're known as one of the baddest dance troupes around.

ATRU -Bad Boys of Dance Nov 5 and 6.jpg

How did Bad Boys of Dance come about?

I was always in awe of and inspired by the great male dancers of the world--Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Baryshnikov--and aspired to be the greatest male dancer I could be. When I was training, I enjoyed the brotherhood of having male role models and throughout my whole career, I was always looking for a place to call home--for the one company that would turn me into that dancer I always aspired to be. Unfortunately, by the time it came for me to join a company, the directors were more interested in raising funds and that was a little disheartening. I got to a point where I said, "I'm going to have to be my own director and take the situation in my own hands and create the company I want." That's when I put together Bad Boys of Dance.

What was your vision going in?

I tried to form a "boy band" of the dance world. I think it's something about guys coming together to entertain and perform.

What would you say sets Bad Boys of Dance apart from other all-male dance troupes?

What sets us apart is the versatility and the infectiousness of performing; these boys are born to perform! The ability to shift between styles like ballet to contemporary jazz to hip hop--they're truly hybrid dancers that can do it all.

You mentioned "versatility"--is it conscious on your part to make sure the routines are diverse and all-inclusive?

I just want people included who can hit the step. The dancers we pull from are from all walks of life; they are very talented and this is their calling. We push each other; each dancer has his own forte and we learn each others' tricks and moves and that makes us all better.

You, along with the "Bad Boys," have performed on Broadway, in feature films, and even at Carnegie Hall with Elton John. How would you explain your ability to appeal to such diverse audiences?

I think it's the fusion of our style; each style of dance or art form has its own demographic but when you crossover it becomes popular. What we do is called "pop" ballet (popular ballet)--it infuses things people can relate to and is not dated. It's not the stereotype of ballet being boring. We look at ourselves as an entertainment troupe; we're dancers, but our mission is to entertain. Once you get to that level, it transcends into not being a niche market.

The Bad Boys of Dance performed on the television show "So You Think You Can Dance"; do you think a show like that, along with the hugely popular "Dancing With the Stars," has an influence or an impact on the culture of dance?

The popularity of dance on TV has helped to make dance a more talked about thing--both shows you mentioned are highly rated. They've brought dance into people's homes in a way that hasn't been done before and I think for that reason alone, there's a higher level of awareness and consciousness of the concept of moving the body gracefully. I think that does lead to people being intrigued about a dance company and seeing what they're about.


So these shows bring attention to dance in a different or more modern way?

Dance companies need to embrace the reality that they're in show business; I think they try to hold on to an ancient creed that makes them inaccessible and to do that, I think they're doing themselves a disservice. It doesn't have to be commercial or anything, but it has to be relatable to the public. You can still educate the audience--still give them a "throwback" and pay homage to different choreography and different works, but it constantly has to be updated. We have to constantly reset and get with the times.

Speaking of "Dancing With the Stars," I've heard many people say the integrity of dance on that show is compromised--that it's more about a popularity contest rather than the art and skill of dance. What are your thoughts regarding this?

First of all, I don't think all the "stars" on "Dancing With the Stars" are stars! [Laughs.] But politics of the shows are just that. There are politics in dance companies and that's why I started my own. It's definitely about [television] ratings--that's just how it is. I do think the shows do more good than bad and that there has been a little bit of improvement, but then again, what can't be improved?

Who or what has had an influence on your choreography or the company in general?

I had a whole bunch of teachers who all my teachers taught me different things. I was given so many privileged opportunities and have been blessed with some amazing instructors over the course of my life and my company is a by-product of all that.

What will Chicago see from the Bad Boys of Dance?

"Beautiful Day" and "Rock You," two great pieces choreographed by my wife [Adrienne Canterna-Thomas], along with my help on one of the numbers. The audience can look forward to a celebration of great music, great dancing and a great time. It's a real treat and it's well put together--it's a show that's proven and is definitely fun. If you're a first time theatergoer or even if you've been to every ballet under the sun, I think you'll enjoy Bad Boys of Dance.

See Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Saturday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$72 and are available online, by phone, 800-982-2787 or at the box office.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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