Rasta Thomas’ “Bad Boys of Dance” were back in Philly to an almost sold out crowds at the Annenberg Center, with just enough room left for the dance kids and seniors to cheer lustily. Thomas himself didn’t dance this time, a disappointment, he did after all dance for the Kirov Ballet and the Dance Theater of Harlem. But he introduced the evening and his genuineness to bring all styles of dance to all ages and crossover audiences is infectious. Some of Rasta’s Boys are “So You Think You Can Dance” TV stars in their own right. Thomas is the artistic director and his wife Adrienne Canterna, is company choreographer and star dancer.
Their appeal also gives them a lot of slack for this flashy jukebox concert, with dancing vignettes to tunes from such pop stars as Robin Thicke, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, David Bowie, Coldplay, Queen, just to mention a few. Hits that most dance companies couldn’t afford to use because of the royalties, but Thomas’ company is a different model, with extensive touring underwritten by capital generated by the tickets sales and capital raised by the company. Something that is ambitious and precarious for any performing arts based organization. It is a family affair with Adrienne Canterna, Rasta’s wife, choreographing and dancing onstage with the boys.
Act one “Don’t Stop Believing’ with a seduction scenario danced by Canterna and Lee Gumbs, is an on again off again seduction (depending on the love song.) Supporting the drama, the Boys fly in and out (a bit too much) as the streetwise chorus. Choreographically it is all over the map, with some mixed dance genres more successful than others are.
Dancing to well-known songs carries many risks– it has to look more than MTV video, but can’t be too ‘arty’ either. The highlight was a dramatic pas de deux by Gumbs and Canterna to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” has crowded choreography, but the effect is sensational. Gumbs is both an athletically explosive and lyrical dancer. Canterna also displays impressive athleticism and suppleness, especially in her mach speed pirouette runs, but her breakneck attack makes it look gimmicky in key moments.
In addition to those huge layouts, everyone in the troupe throw all variety of vaults, somersaults, punch-fronts, ramp up the athleticism. Equally impressive, almost subversively, is the laced in ballet movement. The men could strengthen some ragged looking entrechats, but otherwise they own it aerially, but both their strengths and weaknesses often blurred with dance speed.
There were some empty seats for a stronger Act II- “We Are the Champions”- The Boys are in black chinos and white t-shirts, dancing to the electro-mystical music of Olufar Arnalds, the movement features adagio work with Capoeira moves that they should explore more. Those who were not completely won over in the first half seemed won over by now. The slowdown really lets you see variety in the dancers. The troupe has steely sexy swagger on Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” and they are smoldering in the pulsingly erotic “Need You Tonight” by INXS.
Of course there was the inevitable Michael Jackson set based on his six famous moves and actually given more inventiveness (when will this eternal dance homage ever end?…but never mind) By that time, the men are pealing off their Ts ala the Chippendales, so much for that fifth position precision. The heavy touring and reliance on flashy dance bleeds the stronger elements of the troupe. Meanwhile, everyone in this audience was having a blast.