If you’ve ever doubted whether it was possible to have your cake and eat it, too—to be your own boss while dancing principal roles with the world’s top ballet companies and rocking out on Broadway and on screen—look closely at 26-year-old Rasta Thomas. This comp kid turned coveted guest artist (not to mention, adorable hunk) doesn’t see any reason not to have the career of your dreams. “If you have the genetics and the will, and you’re not delusional about what it takes,” he says, “then don’t settle. There is no need to be an unhappy dancer today. You have to believe in yourself—and don’t take no for an answer.”
A freelancer since day one—“it’s in my blood,” he laughs—Rasta has spent the last seven years working with everyone from Twyla Tharp to Patrick Swayze to Savion Glover. (Savion and Rasta have even tossed around the idea of doing a remake of White Nights!) Just this summer, he performed Prince Siegfried in Orlando Ballet’s Swan Lake and the title role in American Ballet Theatre’s Othello, traveled to Japan for a new work by up-and-coming choreographer Yukichi Hattori and then hit Jacob’s Pillow, where his new company, The Bad Boys of Dance, made its debut. And to top it all off, he’s about to become a father with his new bride and longtime dance partner, the gorgeous Adrienne Canterna (a DS cover girl herself, November 1998!). Things are looking pretty good for this young man on the move.
When Rasta leapt onto DS’ June 2000 cover sporting jeans, ballet flats and McDreamy eyes, he already had a bad boy rep, but that seems to be fading now—and something much more elegant is peeking through. At a rehearsal with ABT principal Xiomara Reyes and choreographer Lar Lubovitch at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in May (in preparation for Lubovitch’s Othello), Rasta was focused but playful, cracking jokes and laughing at his own foibles. But in addition to his obvious reverence for Lubovitch and his leading lady, what came through was how completely Rasta plunges into his dancing—and how much he loves what he does.
“Rasta is a very fine example of an early 21st-century dance linguist and a dance abstractionist,” Lubovitch says. “The expression comes from the physical embodiment, not from any pretending or acting.” This was critical to his being cast as the emotionally tormented (and murderous) Othello: “This role, for the most part, is not a part that calls for acting,” the choreographer explains. “It’s a piece that has been choreographed to express itself through movement, and Rasta has the physical understanding of how to dance it.”
The ballet begins with Othello, a tiny, lone figure, praying centerstage. The Met is immense; nonetheless, the empty space around Rasta seemed to shrink in his magnetic presence and his body hummed with an electricity that was barely containable. In Act II, when Othello dances full-out, Rasta ripped through space like someone who might explode out of his own skin. Forget about the fact that his dancing can be a little reckless; this is a guy who’s breaking through his technique to get to something truly unbridled, almost unquenchable—and you just want to watch, no matter what he’s doing.
So what’s changed in his life in the last seven years? Marriage and impending fatherhood, for one: “Marriage has grounded me and added more weight and value to everything I do,” he says. Adrienne, a beautiful ballet dancer in her own right, gets to see a side of Rasta reserved for offstage: “He’s extremely sensitive,” she confesses. “You would think by his strength and presence onstage he might be a tough guy, but nope. When we said our vows, we both cried like babies. In knowing and loving him for 15 years, that is one of my favorite things about him: He’s a very emotional being and I think that’s what makes him such an amazing artist.”
On the dancing front, he still picks his projects carefully, according to “what’s going to challenge me, develop me as an artist and push me to a place I’ve never been,” he explains. But his options have opened up: “Now I’m working with a caliber of people that I love and am thankful for,” he says. “Being a maverick or a rebel or a young cat with an ego—a lot of that has gone away and people are seeing me as a more mature young man who’s really here to make a contribution.”
And talk about working with the very best: One of the brightest moments of Rasta’s career thus far was working with his idol, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Last year, Misha coached him in the role of Achilles in Richard Move’s The Show (Achilles’ Heels), a role Misha originated. In one section of the ballet, Rasta dances a waltz in high heels, and of course, this was the first rehearsal Misha attended. “He was basically giving me a hard time about how I was walking in heels,” Rasta laughs. “I’m thinking, ‘Here’s Baryshnikov, the greatest dancer in the world, the cat I’ve looked up to since day one, and he’s coaching me on how to dance in high heels? Can’t we work on pirouettes or something?’” All joking aside, however, Rasta says, “I felt like a young apprentice in his presence, and he was the wise master. It was perfection; a dream come true.”
Like his idol, he wants to spend the next five years directing (commissioning work, programming performances and staying closer to home) and the following five preserving what’s left of his dancing on film. Will he make it happen? If the last 10 years are any indication, the odds are definitely in his favor. “If I can say one thing about my beliefs,” he says, “it’s that I’m an idealist, and that’s what I would push anyone to be.”
Check out the September issue to see what happened when DS caught up with 20 other talents who have graced our pages (and covers) since 1997!