Rasta Thomas, who appears tonight in “Giselle” with the Washington Ballet, is an anomaly in the world of dance. Most dancers with his technical bravura and charisma are attached to a major ballet company that cossets them and guides their development.
This is not the path chosen by the 23-year-old dancer, who has won gold medals at international competitions, appeared as a guest artist with ballet companies around the world and has fan clubs in places as far as Japan.
The irony is that in spite of his international appeal, Mr. Thomas was seldom seen in his home port of Washington, although he has made guest appearances here with CityDance.
This year, though, is different.
Appearing at the Kennedy Center with Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) in June, Mr. Thomas gave a transcendent performance in George Balanchine’s “Apollo,” probably the most iconic male role created in the 20th century.
This week, he is dancing Albrecht at the Kennedy Center in the romantic 19th-century “Giselle.”
In the middle of “Giselle” rehearsals, the dancer hopped up to New York to work with Twyla Tharp on the lead role of Eddie in “Movin’ Out,” her Broadway show set to Billy Joel songs.
That coveted 21st-century role completes his three-century sweep of great male roles. He will dance Eddie in January for a month in the New York company. (A touring company dances “Movin’ Out” here next month.)
“It was odd to go from one to the other,” the dancer says. “The only time I could learn ‘Movin’ Out’ was right in the middle, and now I’m back for a week and a half to do ‘Giselle.’ Coming out of Eddie, the cool guy, tripping on LSD and going to Vietnam and all that is a bit of a change, but this is a sign of what dancers of our generation can do.”
Mr. Thomas says it is daunting to do such a legendary part as Albrecht but adds, “As [actress] Uta Hagen would say, the memory recollection from other ballets help you as a reference. For instance, when I was with DTH, I danced ‘Song for a Dead Warrior,’ where I played a Native American whose girlfriend had been raped and murdered.
“That was the first time I ever had to act out someone dying in front of me,” he says. “Although they’re different, that death scene prepared me for that moment in ‘Giselle.’”
On Nov. 4, Mr. Thomas will appear at a benefit gala for CityDance at the Russian Embassy.
“I’m very grateful to Paul Emerson and his vision for the company. I just want to support what they’re doing,” he says.
Mr. Thomas says it’s great that CityDance will be the resident company at the new Strathmore center.
“I hope to be part of their company for a long time to come,” he says.