Lifetime of punishment
Ballet was Rasta Thomas’s punishment for being rude in martial arts classes.
Thomas was seven and when his father heard he’d been disrespectful to his tae kwon do teachers he threatened to enroll him in ballet classes.
“He told me if I didn’t improve my behaviour he’d put me in a tutu,” Thomas says. “I said, noo, dance is for girls. I was petrified.”
Not scared enough though to modify his behaviour and within days he found himself in ballet class – without the tutu of course. And he excelled.
“I discovered I was into anything that incorporated movement. I was a hyperactive child, into sports, gymnastics and martial arts, and I soon realised that dance helped my martial arts and martial arts helped my dance.”
His teacher recognised his talent as a dancer and aged only nine Thomas won a scholarship to train at The Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington. As a teenager he made dance competition history becoming the youngest person ever to receive the Jury Prize at the 1994 Paris International Dance Competition, the youngest ever to win the Gold Medal in the junior men’s division of the 1996 Varna International Ballet Competition and the youngest ever to win the senior men’s division gold medal at the USA International Ballet Competition in 1998. At 13 he was dancing with the Le Jeune Ballet in Paris. Not bad for a guy who had once been told he’d never walk again.
“I had this accident with a jeep when a little after my first birthday. I broke a couple of ribs and broke my leg in five places. Doctors said I might never walk again, and if I did I would always hobble.”
Thomas’s father, a physician himself, would not accept this prognosis. He got his son intensive physical therapy and then, when he was three, enrolled him in martial arts classes.
“I was the kid who walked funny, but learned to kick and jump around.”
Thomas has since danced with the world’s best. He has been principal dancer with the Hartford Ballet, was the first American to become a member of the Kirov Ballet of St Petersburg, Russia, and his guest credits include the Russian Imperial Ballet, the National Ballet of China, Spain’s Victor Ullate Ballet, the Inoue Ballet of Japan and the Washington Ballet. He’s also danced on Broadway, at the White House, at the Academy Awards and played the role of Timmy in Patrick Swayze’s 2005 movie One Last Dance.
Then in 2007 Thomas founded Bad Boys of Dance.
“I had been dancing all over the world, but I hadn’t really found a home with any dance company or a director to make me another Baryshnikov. And I always had this goal of wanting to direct, so I decided to try my hand at directing a company.”
He decided on an all male company because, he says, he wanted to show the world what great male dancing looked like.
“I wanted to make dancing fun, entertaining and accessible to a whole new generation.”
A year later he and his wife and fellow dancer, Adrienne Canterna, created the company’s hallmark show Rock the Ballet and two casts have toured the show worldwide ever since. Their St James theatre performances this week are their first in New Zealand.
Thomas says Rock the Ballet is a fusion of classic ballet blended with hip-hop, tap, contemporary dance and gymnastics. Six bad boys, and one pretty girl, dance to the music of U2, Michael Jackson, Prince and Coldplay against a backdrop of video projected scenery.
“It’s sexy, athletic and dynamic,” Thomas says. “This show frees ballet from its prissy aura.”
Rock the Ballet, Bad Boys of Dance, St James Theatre, June 6-10.