If the Bad Boys of Dance display "tons of attitude" in their debut Saturday night at Staller Center, that's what founder Rasta Thomas intended.
As a 16-year-old, Thomas broke Mikhail Baryshnikov's record by two years as the youngest winner of the senior division of the USA International Ballet Competition. Before that, he performed at Staller in the Seiskaya Ballet's annual season of "The Nutcracker." Thomas went on to join the Dance Theater of Harlem, under its late founder Arthur Miller and perform as a guest soloist with such prestigious troupes as the Kirov Ballet and the Joffrey before founding his own company in 2007. Since forming the Bad Boys, Thomas has sought to highlight the athleticism and grace of male dancers in a discipline -- classical ballet -- long dominated by ballerinas. The women were the stars, with male dancers doing the heavy lifting, so to speak, relegated to supporting roles.
"We don't challenge masculinity, we define it," Thomas said in an interview during his company's 2012 Australian tour.
A RARE U.S. APPEARANCE
The Bad Boys also tour Asia and Europe extensively. The performance at Stony Brook University is only the company's second in the United States this year, following last week's show at Kean University in New Jersey.
Adrienne Canterna, choreographer and the Bad Boys' lone female dancer, says, "We use classical ballet as the base of our dance vocabulary in shaping a hybrid of jazz, rock, hip-hop and theater dance that takes off into martial arts, acrobatics and gymnastics. Basically, we're a group of incredible male dancers." She quickly qualified her remark. "We are six boys and myself," she said, adding with a laugh, "Sometimes we need a little female inspiration."
Thomas, now 33, last danced with the company in 2013. "Even if you can still do the moves in your 30s, you feel it a lot more than you did in your 20s," Canterna says. "But as our artistic adviser, Rasta still calls the shots" in terms of repertoire and touring.
Unlike the company's "Romeo and Juliet," the more classically inclined show it also performs on tour, Saturday night's "Rock the Ballet" is danced to a medley of songs by such contemporary artists as Coldplay, U2, Prince, Chris Brown, Lenny Kravitz and the Black-Eyed Peas, as well as Aerosmith, Queen and Michael Jackson. "Our dances are a series of vignettes," Canterna says, "more artful than avant-garde. You won't walk away scratching your heads. It's pretty easy to get.
"We call it ballet for the 21st century," she says, "with the training and teaching of classical ballet, but we mix it up. It's American ballet for today."
Of "Rock the Ballet," which Thomas premiered in 2008, he says, "It's sexy, fun, energetic, loud and makes you feel good."
WHAT The Bad Boys of Dance perform "Rock the Ballet"
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday night, Staller Center, Stony Brook University
TICKETS $42; 631-632-2787, stallercenter.com