An ATS Family Reunion
FCBD’s Annual Production of Devotion
A Concert Report by Renée Rothman
Photos by Raymond Van Tassel
Posted December 9, 2011
FatChanceBellyDance’s 2011 production of its Devotion was presented on Friday, June 17 at the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley, California. This year’s theme, “The Home”, was explored by six troupes and soloists and accompanied by FCBD’s home musicians, Helm. While the theme was not readily apparent to me at the time, in retrospect, I began to see their possible intent: family relations.
Colleena Shakti and Elizabeth Strong, guest soloists, represented the nativity of Belly dance in North Indian and Gypsy dances. FCBD Studio in San Francisco descends from that lineage and is also the natal home of the uniquely American Belly dance form, ATS (American Tribal Style). FCBD’s sister studios, her progeny, returned here to dance their devotion for their origins–in the venue of their origin.
Their return was both a “pilgrimage” and a family reunion.
The production was staged in such a way as to create a casual and cozy setting. It opened with sari-wrapped Carolena Nericcio, surveying her world. The scene resembled a garden scene on an Indian miniature: to one side, a group of musicians are permanently ensconced on a platform. Beyond, various dancers are practicing their arts. Nericcio established a picnic-like area in front of the musicians where tea and coffee were being served to the guests. As a group of dancers completed their set throughout the evening, they crossed to this area, greeted the current guests and replaced them. This kept a nice flow to the concert by connecting each of the artists in continuous succession, softening what are usually abrupt changes between acts. These exchanges also demonstrated the real camaraderie shared between these performers.
In addition to FCBD and Nericcio, this year’s production featured Devyani Dance Company, Colleena Shakti, Rakadu Gypsy, Raqset Il Olaal, Elizabeth Strong, and the Australian ATS troupe Ghawazi Caravan. Aside from Shakti’s “Odissi Solo” to recorded music, all the dancers were accompanied by the fabulous band, Helm, who played both original compositions and traditional Middle Eastern tunes. We saw dances that reflected or were inspired by ATS, North Indian folk and classical dances as well as Romani, performed in troupes and as solos, with both serious and comedic intent.
Troupes Ghawazi Caravan and Devyani demonstrated their devotion to the ATS tradition and to Nericcio’s tutelage. I was inspired by the inventiveness of their interpretations of American Tribal Style and excited by some fresh methods of transitioning between partners.
Theresa Tomb and Super Kate Slepicka, both of Rakadu Gypsy, strolled on stage dressed as gum-chewing housekeepers, carrying plungers. Wearing house-dresses and hairnets, they dusted and polished random instruments (and musicians) before breaking into dance without breaking out of character. The plungers became “canes” to be spun in traditional Egyptian style, inciting gleeful laughter from the audience. Later in the program, Tomb and Slepicka stripped off their comic guises and further delighted us with their animated American Tribal Style dancing.
Elizabeth Strong and Colleena Shakti performed solos in their respective styles. Strong is an accomplished performer in Eastern European and North African Romani dances as well as Tribal Fusion. All influences were in play as Strong executed pirouettes, Turkish drops, and all those charming hand-gestures distinctive of Roman dance.
As mentioned previously, Colleena Shakti performed a spirited Odissi solo in the first half of the evening. Her proficiency in this classical art reveals her long study and dedication to the preservation and vitalization of Indian dance. In the second half, she partnered with Devyani director, Megha Gavin, to pair together the old and new traditions of Belly dance: Shakti’s Khalbelia folk dance from Rajasthan with Gavin’s ATS. They represented the reunion of two “homelands”: the place from which Belly dance originated in Northern India and the place where one of her progeny, ATS in San Francisco, has flourished.
The piéce de resistance of the evening was the solo by Carolena Nericcio. Nericcio strode onto the stage with majestic carriage, in basic ATS costuming but wearing a Nefertiti-styled hat—tall, black and dripping in rhinestones. While many of Nericcio’s technical abilities have diminished, her carriage and presence on stage remain remarkably strong. She can still roll and flutter her stomach muscles and with a smile set off a long round of zhagareets (vocal trills).
She’s still the head of this household, and she proudly (and rightly) holds the center of a dynamic network of ATS-inspired Belly dancers.
This was my first attendance at Devotion, which I believe is now in its fifth year. It began as a way for Nericcio to celebrate her many years of devotion to dance (24 this year). Based on comments by other audience members, in the past, the evening has had a prayerful or contemplative character, suitably devotional. Tonight’s concert, however, had a livelier quality. As befits the theme of “Home”, the performances were playful, animated, and inviting. Whether you feel at home in the old or the new Belly dance traditions, “Devotion” is a concert series that will remind you of your ancestral dance origins and will renew your own dedication to the living art of Belly dancing.
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