Inés Arrubla’s Flamenco Dance Theater opened its FringeNYC series on a rainy, humid afternoon, for an audience scarcely larger than itself. No AC and a faint odor of fresh paint made University Settlement’s no-frills space a challenge. On cue, thunder rumbled an introduction, and guitarist Juanito Pascual smoothly overlapped that sonic statement. Arrubla’s accompanists also included Alfonso Cid (vocals, flute), Gonzalo Grau (percussion, cello), and Sean Kupisz (percussion, bass). Their momentary lapse into lackluster fusion can be forgiven; mostly these guys rocked. Arrubla was at her best when controlling the pictures her body made, framing her intense face and rock-ribbed torso with angular, stark armwork radiating energy. At other times, her dancing looked busy, her footwork undistinguished. All in all, though, she performed with true feeling, and when she and the musicians engaged in impassioned crossfire, the heat index broke all records.
It must hurt a disciplined, bighearted troupe like Cleo Parker Robinson Dance to have to disappoint an audience. On the first night of a two-show August engagement at Lincoln Center Out of Doors (Damrosch Bandshell), heat and thunderstorms forced CPRD to delay its prep time and start late. (Robinson now calls New York the Baked Apple.) Transitions between dances were unusually lengthy. Facing a 10 p.m. cutoff, the company canceled its last dance, One Nation Under a Groove—Part One. People exclaimed in dismay as Robinson ran onstage to urge us to return the next night, but we’d already seen a lot. Rosangela Sylvestre’s monumental, punishing Temple in Motion exploited a large ensemble’s gleaming muscularity and virtuosity. Unfortunately, it began to resemble an anatomy book and overstayed its welcome. Kristofer Storey was both helped and hindered by the great songs he chose for his emotionally compelling triplet Three Too Blue. Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, and Donny Hathaway competed with Storey’s fine dancers for attention. Only Carol L. McCoy (in a scary duet with Ryan Leveille) decisively wrested Simone’s “I Loves You Porgy” in her direction. Nejla Yatkin’s Near East-influenced Salome’s Daughters served as a fit and dazzling tribute to CPRD’s women. —Eva Yaa Asantewaa
More Afro-Caribbean Step: Dance Explosion, featuring Debra Bono, is a refreshing, advanced video encore to her 1999 release, Afro-Caribbean Step: Not the Same Old Step. Bono answered the call to end the monotony of traditional step aerobics. Combining West African dance with step-aerobic patterns, her 64-minute workout is exhilarating and sweat drenching, as technically challenging as it is fun. The introductory eight-minute warm-up is enough to scare beginners away. Fears are banished as she breaks down more complicated moves during the main workout segment. The torso undulations and opposing rhythmic arm and foot movements that characterize West African dance can be more challenging when placed in a step-aerobics context. A reflection of Bono’s extensive dance training, the multilayered choreography moves rapidly. Bono even outfits herself in a short lappa, the cloth used as skirts in West African culture. West African dance enthusiasts may prefer their traditional classes to Bono’s video workout. But this tape is perfect for those less familiar with West African dance who yearn for a change of pace in their aerobics training. —Lenita Williamson
Michael King’s Pilates Workbook (Ulysses Press, Berkeley, $12.95), the latest in a barrage of Pilates books, is a good buy. Pilates is the hottest fitness craze since the hula hoop. Named after its creator, Joseph Pilates, this mind-body exercise technique offers an alternative to mindless calisthenics. The unique exercise form systematically works all muscle groups, creating strong, lean, and flexible bodies. Like a great architect, Pilates designed his program to balance form with function, symmetry with strength. King, who studied Pilates under Alan Herdman at the London School of Contemporary Dance, went on to teach at London’s Pineapple Studio and the Houston Ballet, and now directs a studio in California. He articulates Pilates’s philosophy and movement with simple elegance. His concise but thorough style allows even the novice to grasp the technique. One caution: The male model in the book’s many photographs, Simon Spalding, has overdeveloped shoulder muscles, making him appear hunched while demonstrating some exercises. —Jeffrey Freeze