Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance weren't really that bad (Philadelphia Weekly)

February 24, 2014

By Bill Chenevert

For Philadelphia Weekly

Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of catching the last performance of Rasta Thomas’ “Bad Boys of Dance” at the Annenberg Center. It was both exactly and nothing like I thought it’d be: a little heavy on the cheese factor, but pleasantly populated by six exceptional male physiques.

If I had to describe the nature of the dance, I’d call it a pop and hip-hop ballet. The program notes very plainly list the song choices, and some, from my perspective, are just plain bad ones, while some others made perfect sense. It was by no means a bold or revolutionary artistic statement; ballet gets bred with other dance forms across the world on a daily basis. But was it fun? Did I giggle a few times, utter “Wow” reflexively and bob my head more than I have at any other ballet show in Philadelphia? Absolutely.

To be blunt, the first act was pretty off-putting. Titled “Don’t Stop Believin’,” it started out with promising playfulness, including a one-two-three introduction from Kanye West (“Stronger,” f-bombs and all), The Knack (“My Sharona”) and Robert Palmer. “Simply Irresistible,” to a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, is so firmly aesthetically anchored with slicked-back hair, cheesy red sports cars and those weird blade-wielding and whip sound effects that underscore the chorus. The ideaof the song is kitsch. But the one female dancer—presumably Adrienne Canterna, the company’s co-artistic director (also listed as a dancer in the program)—finished the track with a few of the most startlingly awe-inspiring series of spins of the entire night.

See, Thomas came out to introduce the show and said that ballet is always at the core of their dance. And there were a large handful of moments in which the stark juxtaposition between hip-hop and ballet were perfectly paired—from a breakdance headspin to an elegant split; fully-extended leaping revolutions punctuated with braggadocious posturing; a feat of flexibility paired with a little robot; a gracious pose with pointed toes followed by a suggestive crotch thrust.

All of that was great, until this brutal run of the program (featuring some of my least favorite songs and artists of all time: Dave Matthews’ “The Space Between,” Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” and “The Scientist,” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing”). It was at this point that I visibly grimaced and had a hard time enjoying the athleticism and artistry of the seven performers on stage. It was also terribly distracting that the guys were wearing jeans and polos. (Less so the jeans, but polos, to me, are so very far from anything “bad boy.”) The finale of Act I was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and by the time we arrived at an interpretive pop ballet being danced to the guitar solo of a Journey song, I was uncomfortably squirming in my seat. It was as off-putting as it sounds.

Luckily, the second act saved the whole affair from being just plain weird. In fact, the second act, titled “We Are the Champions,” could have made for a great show on its own. It was longer, badder and held nearly all of the show’s sex appeal that I’d been hoping for. A good amount of Michael Jackson and Robin Thicke got employed, as was, naturally, some Queen and some Queen with David Bowie (“Under Pressure”). They even mined some favorites from the era of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s that were pleasant to revisit: EMF, INXS and George Michael. They came out in black dance pants and tucked-in white tanks. They were soon wearing blazers and skinny ties, and then the shirts came off.

It’s here that I’d quickly like to clue you in on who their audience was: old white folks, single ladies, kids and a smattering of gay men. But primarily, it was the first category: I saw a solid trio of bald white-haired gentlemen who also had ponytails. So, it wasn’t entirely surprising when things got sort of Chippendale-y towards the end, with some flexing, some suggestive grinding and some man-meat posing. There was even an LMFAO moment (“Sexy and I Know It”) to make sure the audience was fully aware that sex was on display.

So, even though the first act nearly lost me real early in, they managed to bring it all home with a bit of Justin Timberlake (“Sexyback”), some Outkast (“Hey Ya”) and Usher (“Yeah!!!”), a little Chris Brown, and even some Bee Gees. It was just a little cornier than I thought it would be, but I would happily take my mom and my girlfriends for a fun girls-night-out the next time these “Bad Boys” come around.