Drums of Illumination: Drumming for World Peace
A Magical Winter Solstice Celebration
Theatre for the New City/City Theater
155 First Avenue
New York City
December 19–20, 2011
On December 19 and 20, Drums of Illumination: Drumming for World Peace—an expansive and diverse show that united cultures and perspectives through performance—took the stage in the black box at the Theater for the New City.
I Giullari di Piazza ("The Jesters of the Court") is New York’s southern Italian folk music/dance/theater company, founded by Alessandra Belloni and Sergio Belloti in 1978. Their travels and talents have taken them worldwide.
Belloni welcomed their special guests for the evening, the Silver Clouds Singers, a Native American Trio, who opened the show with Zuni Song. The male singer, in traditional dress, sung with matter-of-fact power, and one could see in his throat the expression that you heard in his voice.
Belloni then welcomed and spoke to the audience, detailing her path with southern Italian percussion. She began her Requiem per Mamma Elvira with a tambourine that bore a beautiful woman on its skin. A stilt walker, Mark Mindek, appeared with a glittering golden mask of the sun and gestured and twirled, interacting with Belloni and the audience. He was graceful and confrontational and altogether impressive in height and skill.
I was particularly taken with percussionist Davi Vieira, another special guest in the company that evening. His joy while he performed was completely infectious and complimented the overall atmosphere of community and communication. Vieira and Bellotti shared an unspoken connection as they laughed and layered many intricate beats. I enjoyed that everyone was on stage the entire time, save for Mindek who retreated to portray the process of drums driving the black plague out of a community or to change his costume.
The dancing, more than anything that evening, stole the show. One dance was planned and clearly in the program and another was an improvised and spontaneous occurrence of childhood confidence and jubilance. A young woman from the Silver Cloud Singers performed a traditional hoop dance. I had heard much about Native American hoop dancing, but to finally see it in person was an unexpected treat. She laced together the hoops and popped in and
out of them with her entire body, expertly kicking up her right leg to hike the hoops up around her waist and then over her head in a series of small and swift moves. Each step she took was full of buoyancy so that she appeared as light as a feather while she danced. She maintained the direct facial expression found in the other Silver Cloud members and allowed the act to speak for itself. It was most impressive.
During Canto Da Sereja (a traditional chant from the northeast of Brazil), a young boy, Luca Silvano-Tarantata, was clearly moved by Vieira to come onstage and showcase his moves. This boy of about 7 or 8 years old came forward and began to breakdance! As the audience clapped and hooted, Vieira and Luca then began a classic capoeira battle dance. I cannot imagine a heart in the house not swelling with joy at this boy who so clearly enjoys dancing.
Alessandra Belloni, before each song, outlined the tradition in each culture. Her intense love of each form supported the entire event. And what could be more appropriate for an evening of connection and community than to end with an invitation to the audience to dance? I looked to a woman on my right: “Andiamo?” she asked. “Si!” I shouted over the drums, and we all linked hands and made our way to the stage to share in joyous movement and music.
—Mary Ellen Carafice
Sounds from uncommon spaces by photographer Ozier Muhammad:
"When I first came to the Church and saw the drum set near the altar I knew this was the church for me " ...
Alessandra Belloni i part of the Church on the edge , in Edgewater NJ, where she practices drumming on Tuesdays, and artist in residence at the Cathedral of S John the Divine, Ms Belloni is a percussionist that also sings. Many of her songs are a mix of chants, prayers and folk songs from her childohood growing up in Rome.
link to the New York Times article. http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/06/
Alessandra Bellonia, here in her Edgewater home, is recognized internationally as an authority on southern Italian performing arts.
Also, (2) Instrument you give to a preschool child at your own risk.
Not, you’d think, a difficult instrument. Or a lead instrument. Or a sacred instrument used since ancient times to summon Cybele herself: the Earth mother, goddess of nature and fertility.
And not, it follows, an instrument that you’d drive 220 miles to learn how to play. Not unless you have Edgewater’s Alessandra Belloni as a teacher.
"WHACK-WHACK, ching-ching-ching" goes the tambourine in the hands of Greg Marzullo, 32, a Washington, D.C., resident who has driven four hours in a rainstorm for his Wednesday lesson.
"Relax the wrist," Belloni tells him. "The more relaxed, the better it sounds."
"WHACK-WHACK" goes the tambourine, more loudly — and then, suddenly, two of the jingles fly off and clatter onto the floor.
Current residence: Edgewater.
Profession: Percussionist, actor, dancer, folklorist, teacher, expert on southern Italian culture.
Number of CDs and LPs: Seven.
Films: "Fellini's Casanova," "Next Stop, Greenwich Village."
Quote: "Follow the wisdom of the Earth. All this dancing and drumming comes from the ancient rituals that people did in honor of the Earth and the seasons of nature. We all shared that at the beginning of time, and it's been lost. What I do is dedicated to that. That's my mission."
Next performance: Tarantella Spider Dance, Friday to next Sunday, Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., Manhattan. $20. 212-254-1109 or theaterforthenewcity.net.
"Wow, that was a strong one," Belloni tells him. "That’s never happened to anybody before."
They’re practicing the tarantella — a furious dance in 6/8 time, on which Belloni is an internationally acknowledged expert. For the past 18 summers she’s trekked through little villages in Campania, Calabria, and Apulia, learning all about the tarantella, commedia dell’arte and other odds and ends of southern Italian folk culture that go back 4,000 years or more.
"That’s the beauty of southern Italy," Belloni says. "It’s never changed."
What she’s learned, she’s incorporated into instructional books, classes, CDs, musical instruments (she’s designed a line of tambourines for the drum company Remo) and her own performance group, I Giullari di Piazza ("The Jesters of the Square"), in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.
"There’s a mystery in my ancestors, and I feel that I embody that, in my look and in my work," she says.
A powerful dance
Most people think of the tarantella as a quaint folk dance associated with Italian weddings and the "Godfather" movies.
What Belloni discovered, and what her group has brought to the stage (more than 100 performances a year) in venues like Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Teatro Quirino in Rome, is something else.
The tarantella, she learned, was both an ancient religious rite and an early form of convulsive therapy. Victims of the "tarantula’s bite" — blamed for depression, repression, mental problems of any kind — would dance themselves into a frenzy to remove the "poison."
Which is why her student, Marzullo, practicing in the rec room of an Edgewater church, has been pounding his tambourine like a 10-penny nail.
"I feel a real spiritual resonance with it," says Marzullo, descended from southern Italians on his father’s side. "It’s almost like a spiritual technology, a healing technology."
Ancient wall paintings, in Pompeii and elsewhere, depict women with tamburelli engaged in this ritual, associated with the Earth goddess Cybele.
Amid spooky lights and haunting music arranged by longtime collaborator John La Barbera, Belloni re-creates — with liberties — the ancient rite in her shows.
World festival encompasses varied traditions of religious sounds for two weeks around L.A.
September 12, 2002|Robert Hilburn; Lynell George; Susan Brenneman; Mark Swed; Don Heckman; Lewis Segal
This year's incarnation has expanded to the extent of asking: What is the sacred? Is it prayer to a deity beyond? Is it touching the god within? Is it tradition and ritual? Or simply pure beauty?
With more than 200 different acts at 55 events at scores of locations across the region, the festival is a fascinating experiment in touching a spiritual chord common to many Angelenos. What follows are the performances that most intrigued a panel of The Times' music and dance writers.
Voyage of the Black Madonna, Sacred Music of Italy with Alessandra Belloni and the Our Lady of Lourdes Choir: Singer, dancer and tambourine virtuoso Alessandra Belloni weaves together an aural tapestry referencing the cycles of life, women and nature. Backed by East L.A.'s Our Lady of Lourdes Choir, Belloni will drum as well as perform a selection of chants from Mexico, Brazil, Portugal, Spain and France, to one of the most sacred icons of the Catholic Church: the Black Madonna, said to offer both physical and spiritual healing powers. Belloni, one of the most famous and revered voices in Southern Italian music and dance today, has designed a signature series of tambourines, some of which she will utilize during an evening that begins and concludes with a candlelight procession honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Sept. 20)
Belloni Heightens Impact of Italian Song, Dance
World Music Review
October 23, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
Mention the words "music" and "Italy" in the same sentence and the next word that comes to mind for most people is "opera," followed by the names Monteverdi, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini. But Italy has its traditional music as well, a rich subliminal flow that has been, and continues to be, ever present in city streets and village squares, at weddings and in taverns.
Alessandra Belloni, a singer, dancer and tambourine virtuoso, spent last week at a variety of venues around the Southland making a convincing case for the remarkable diversity of this music. Appearing at percussion clinics, leading workshops and seminars at UCLA, discussing the ethnomusicology of Italy's traditional culture, and performing the music from her stunning new album, "Tarantata: Dance of the Ancient Spider," she offered an intellectual rationale for the music as well as an engaging opportunity to experience its emotional impact.
On Saturday night at Luna Park--not, unfortunately, the ideal arena for her music--she made the best of a small cluttered stage and distracting noise from the club's other areas. A small woman with a wild mane of black hair and an enormously powerful presence, Belloni sang and danced with a concentrated intensity that quickly transformed her surroundings. Her material included songs from Calabria, Sardinia, and Brazil--the last linking Bahia's Yemanja goddess with Italy's Madonna. She demonstrated her articulate skill with various tambourines, and in a climactic closer, she sang, danced and played the whirling, ecstatic, trance-like music of the traditional tarantella.
It was a remarkable performance, enhanced by a group of superb accompanying musicians--flutist/saxophonist Steve Gorn, violinist Joe Deninzon (who joined Belloni in dancing the tarantella) and guitarist-lutist John La Barbera. Belloni deserves a repeat Southland performance at a venue--perhaps Royce Hall--that would allow a full exposition of her compellingly entertaining and informative view of Italian/Mediterranean
Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote:
"Invocations and work songs, exorcisms and lullabies shared the program of RHTHM IS THE CURE in the Chapel of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.... Driven by tambourine patterns so fast that the drummer’s hands became blurs. Ms. Belloni sang in an exultant voice. The songs blazed with an age-old momentum" .
Classical Music in Review
By ALEX ROSS
Published: December 23, 1993
'La Cantata dei Pastori' I Giullari di Piazza Here 145 Avenue of the Americas (near Spring Street) South Village "La Cantata dei Pastori," a musical play that is being presented around town by the traditional Italian theater group I Giullari di Piazza, is a rarity among Christmas programs: it somehow manages to be both riotously entertaining and curiously haunting, even profound. The source is a 17th-century Neapolitan shepherd's play, blending the story of Mary and Joseph with characters out of commedia dell'arte (the clown Razzullo, also known as Pulcinella) and more ancient legend (La Befana, the good witch of Christmas). The plot concerns the efforts of various devils and demons to foil the birth of Jesus, with Razzullo caught in the middle. The music -- tarantellas, villanellas and pastorales -- comes from various traditional sources.
On Monday night, members of I Giullari delivered a vibrant and uproarious performance. A cast of nine and a period-instrument ensemble of six (led by John La Barbera, the musical director) produced nonstop theatrical and musical energy. There was the canny, kindly Befana (Hillary Chaplain), an unusually vivacious Virgin Mary (Alessandra Belloni, the group's stage director and researcher), an Archangel Gabriel on stilts (Mark Mindek), a devil and his fiddler (James Karcher and Abrahm Stuart), a spectacular Triceratops-like dragon (designed by Ralph Lee) and, best of all, the hapless Razzullo (Giuseppe de Falco, in a bravura comic turn).
The evening's comic set piece is Razzullo's funeral procession, which Razzullo himself joins, mistakenly thinking that he has died by poisoning. The other characters, Mary included, launch into extravagantly insincere hysterics of mourning. The way this dark, chaotic episode leads into the final affirmation of the birth of Jesus impressively hints at the full pagan energy of early Christmas celebrations.
I Giullari di Pastori is to present "La Cantata dei Pastori" again at Here tonight. ALEX ROSS
MUSIC: CHRISTMAS PLAY
By JON PARELES
DEMONS, a dragon, two fools and a shipwreck all but upstage Mary and Joseph in ''La Cantata dei Pastori'' (''Shepherds' Cantata''), which was presented Sunday at St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn by the Italian music-theater troupe I Giullari di Piazza. The Christmas play was written in the 17th century and has been performed each year around Naples, evolving through the years. It uses folk music, some dating back to the 15th century, and figures from commedia dell'arte. On Sunday it also included fire-eating, juggling and prestidigitation between scenes.
The plot involves two fools, Razzullo and Sarchiapone, whose intinerary intersects that of Giuseppe and Maria; Maria is shortly to give birth to the Messiah. The Devil wants to prevent that birth, and his machinations knock around the fools and their companions, although Maria and Giuseppe are under the protection of the Angel Gabriel. There's a tempest, a battle with a dragon, a mock funeral procession and more.
There are also such lilting Italian folk tunes as tarantellas and villanellas, sung and sometimes danced by the group and played by flutes, violin, guitars and percussion - emphasizing their links to Italian Renaissance music. The music, directed by John La Barbera, is folkish, aiming for vitality above precision and often achieving both.
The adaptation, by the troupe's director, Alessandra Belloni, is geared for action rather than quiet piety; in a climactic battle, Miss Belloni as Maria beat a large drum and sang out while the Angel Gabriel (Elisa Mereghetti) took on the dragon. Giuseppe de Falco as Razzullo and Vincenzo Corrao as the birdlike Sarchipone shared slapstick duties, and at St. Ann's Church, the demons gleefully danced and stalked the aisles, brandishing tridents. Ralph Lee had provided a striking, crocodile-size dragon puppet and a horned, hawklike demon mask. The only false note was struck by an English-language narrator, trying too hard to be jocular.
I Giullari di Piazza did not shy away from such anachronisms as slide whistles and flares. Yet it captured the feeling of a rustic theater troupe putting on its annual pageant.
TARANTELLA: SPIDER DANCE
Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
In popular culture the Tarantella is mostly associated with a high spirited, Italian folk dance performed at wedding celebrations, or perhaps more formally, in a character dance for ballet along with mazurkas, polkas, and other traditional festive fare. Who can forget the Michael Corleone wedding scene in the Godfather 1?
Forget all that! Alessandra Belloni's Spider Dance takes her audience on a spectacular historical, hypnotic, and soul-liberating trance dance experience as she traces the origins of the Tarantella and its myths and evolutions.
Beginning in Greece, Aracne, the beautiful princess, who weaves the most beautiful and skilled linens of all, challenges Athena, goddess of love, to a weaving contest. When Aracne wins, Athena in her fury, destroys the linen and rips it into a thousand pieces. Aracne, humiliated, hangs herself. Athena, then out of pity, transforms her into a spider, condemning her to weave her web forever.
From Greece we move to Southern Italy where the bite of the taranti, or little spider, would send working women of the fields into fits of convulsive dance to rid the body of the poisons. They were know as tarantate, and others would join in the frenzied dance that could last for days. They danced the Pizzica Tarantata (bite of love) that would evolve into a Dionysian cathartic revel, purging victims of the poisons within--sexual repression, social mistreatment, abuse, depression. Or similarly, as Blake poetically wrote, the mind-forged manacles imposed on oneself from within and without.
The performance conjures up caravans of gypsies, witches, and shamans at orgiastic gatherings, from Greece, Italy, French Basque country, to present day Brazil; all with the repetitive driving beat of the tarantella--tambourines, flutes, piccolos, wild techno violin, and plaintive chanting. The dancers respond to the quick and energetic trance music with the basic tarantella steps of hops, spins, and skips, but weave them into wild writhing on the floor as the music intensifies, and demons are released. Francesca Silvano was especially enchanting as Arianna, as she performed most of the dances with wild sensuality and grace. This is clearly not a social outing at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Ms. Belloni incorporates so many electrifying elements of movement, an aerialist, a fire-twirling performance, Death, portrayed on stilts, capoeira, and authentic period costumes.
Rarely on stage does a choreographer get to the heart of the matter like Alessandra Belloni. You are reminded of primitive fertility dances of Africa; of sun-worshiping dances of the Incas during spring plantings; of the Sufi's Whirling Dervishes, invoking and blending with all things in universal rotation; of the ancient Balinese gamelan and dancers, along with the sound of the gong to communicate with the gods; to even the Shakers, and "shake and the word will be revealed." All these examples of elemental dances that we could call trance dances, of worship, of liberation, of connection.
The tarantella, of course, morphed into a courtship dance, then a dance of celebration. Naples, Calabria, and Sicily are have versions to the ancient underpinnings as the tradition continues. Alessandra actually has her 13th Annual Workshop "Rhythm is the Cure," August 19-26, 2013, in Italy, focusing on the origins of the Tarantella as a healing trance dance of purification, and Southern Italian tambourine workshops among other offerings. When you consider how many classical musical composers used the same elements of the tanrantella in their work--Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, etc--you begin to see the deep influence that this music and dance has inspired throughout the ages. Her performance is like no other in its originality and content, and she strikes a deep chord of truth.
TARANTELLA: SPIDER DANCE
Theater for the New City, New York
I Giullari Di Piazza
Choreography by Alessandra Belloni
No More Performances
GiaOnTheMove | January 26, 2013 at 3:34 am | Tags: Carlos Stafford The Model Critic, Dionysian revels, Tarantella: Spider Dance, Theatre for the New City, traditional dance | Categories: Ballet, Dance, Reviews, Theatre | URL: http://wp.me/pIW14-2de
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
I Giullari di Piazza: Tarantella - Spider Dance
The following shows have received ratings of at least four stars from Times readers.
- Place: Off Off Broadway Venue: Theater for the New City
- Next Shows:
- Friday, January 18, 2013 8:00 PM Saturday, January 19, 2013 8:00 PM Sunday, January 20, 2013 3:00 PM
- Theater for the New City 155 First Ave. New York, NY 10003 Ticket Price: $25 Ticket Information: Box Office: 212-254-1109; http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net; SmartTix: 212-868-4444; http://www.smarttix.com
- Plot Description for I Giullari di Piazza: Tarantella - Spider Dance
I Giullari di Piazza: Tarantella - Spider Dance Tickets and Showtimes
The "Spider Dance" or Tarantella, is a quite erotic trance dance ritual from Southern Italy, which has been used to cure the mythical bite of the tarantula. This new 'Spider Dance' production infuses the ancient melodies and instrumentation of the authentic tarantella with modern electronic dance beats. It features aerial, fire and stilt dancers, acrobats and a techno Tarantella trance dance. As with all of Belloni's presentations, the show is meticulously researched, with costumes and instrumentation as authentic as possible. The music ranges from traditional 6/8 southern Italian to 12/8 heavy-accented modern sounds, and includes tarantellas, sensual love songs, and women's work chants.
Tarantella: Spider Dance
Written By Joel Benjamin
Alessandra Belloni’s ensemble, I Giullari de Piazza, performed her one-of-a-kind, show Tarantella: Spider Dance at the Theatre for the New City where she sharpened its impact over the past few years. This is a richly beautiful and exciting show that combines music, dance, capoeira, circus, acrobatics and mythical drama all swirled into a lively, colorful show, seasoned liberally with sex and sensuality.
This is theater at its best—raw, passionate, richly costumed and delightfully ragged—that has to be seen to fully appreciate the full-bodied wit and passion with which Ms. Belloni tells her tale. Folklore and classical Greek myth intertwine freely in Spider Dance. The myth of Aracne winning a weaving contest against the vengeful goddess Athena is central to Spider Dance. Aracne is transformed into a spider destined to spin webs forever, portrayed by a skilled acrobat twisting and turning with abandon high up on a hanging web, keeping the spider symbol ever present. The robust cast breaks into energetic tarentellas between colorful tales of clandestined lovers and Dionysus seducing lustfully frustrated peasant girls. Early Christianity is conflated with paganism through rich imagery of madonnas, exorcisms, crucifixes, mingling with nature and sex. Gypsies sweep around the stage; fiery lamps are swung in elaborately dangerous circles; lovers couple with abandon after being bitten by the tarantula whose poison causes madness; and men fight with graceful sweeping movements.
peasant music, mime, a stilt walking god, and even an all out Brazilian Carnavale celebration to bring the evening to an exciting close.
The cast was headed by the whirlwind Ms. Belloni who not only wrote and choreographed Tarantella: Spider Dance, but was on stage almost constantly singing and dancing. She was supported by the terrific musical ensemble led by Joe Deninzon who played the violin, but also got “bitten” and managed to crawl about the floor while still playing the violin! The band members, which included guitarists, woodwind players, percussionists of all types, also wandered about the stage playing characters while singing, too. The musicians: Wilson Montuori, Susan Eberenz, Peter Abazia, Giuseppe de Falco and Massimo Cusato.
Cynthia Enfield was a rich-voiced narrator. Anthony Anderson was the physically adept Dionysus. Peter De Geronimo seduced with the all out sensuality of his dancing. The spider, Fran Sperling, was thrilling and as her human counterpart, Aracne, Sharon Li Vardo had grace and elegance. Mark Mindek’s stilt dancing was astounding in its virtuosity and Hillary Litwin’s belly dancing was charmingly fresh. Francesca Silvano, Greta Campo, Lindsay Poulis and Danielle Hartman all danced with abandon.
Tarantella: Spider Dance (January 18th, 19th & 20th, 2013)
Theatre for the New City
155 First Ave. (bet. 9th & 10th Sts.)
New York, NY
Tickets: TNC at 212-254-1109 or SmartTix at 212-868-4444
More Information about I Giullari di Piazza – www.AlessandraBelloni.com
GRINDER OF THE MONTH: ALESSANDRA BELLONI AND THE DANCE OF THE SPIDER
In the 1970s, as a young, rebellious woman, Alessandra Belloni thought she had to leave her home in Rome to find freedom in the rock & roll culture of the United States. Years later, she found herself backpacking solo through the villages of southern Italy, connecting with older Italian villagers, the rapid tempo of their tambourines and the lively movement of dances like the Tarantella. Belloni was invited to be part of the “Musica e Teatro Populare” concert by a group of Italian women who were reviving the old work chants sung by women in the fields. Belloni’s experience that summer was life changing. It connected her to a part of her heritage that she had been unaware of, and later to her own grandfather when he remembered that that he, a villager himself, had been a passionate tambourine player. It turned out that she was naturally adept at large frame drum playing as well and she found the music beautiful and haunting. Enraptured, Belloni was determined to learn as much as she could about this disappearing part of southern Italian culture and share it with the rest of the world. What was intended to be a singular trip around the outskirts of Italy, became the first step of many toward a large, transformative journey for Belloni who would become an award-winning performer, artistic director and spiritual leader sought after around the globe.
In New York, she had studied Commedia dell’Arte with Dario Fo at New York University, acting at HB Studio, and took private voice lessons, but playing the large frame drums and dancing to their songs was an entirely different learning experience all together. The dances required her to become more grounded in her movement and the drumming required a physical strength and stamina totally at odds with contemporary urban living. When I took a couple of frame-drumming lessons with Alessandra, she noted that I picked up the rhythms easily, but it was also apparent that I did not have the upper body strength to hold the drum in the correct position for very long. Belloni notes that the sedentary lives most of us live today make it difficult to connect with the corporeal elements of folk music. The women in Southern Italy were infinitely more robust from working physically all day throughout most of their lives. Even the women much older than she were able to dance and drum away for hours.
She cofounded a music company “I Guilllari Di Piazza” with classical guitarist/composer John La Barbera in New York City in 1979 when they discovered their shared love for international folk music. She made regular trips back to Italy to learn more about the drumming and dancing and soon expanded the company to include other musicians and dancers as well. She realized, however, that because most of the singers in New York City had opera training and most of the dancers were trained in forms like ballet, she had to spend even more time training them so they could adapt to the grounded movements and the “major Neapolitan scale” that depended on deep but fast vibratos.
The company has been very successful with numerous performances each year at many venues around New York City and abroad. In 2012, Belloni made another ambitious move. She wrote and produced a full-length play, Tarentalla—Spider Dance, that narrates the ancient history of the Tarantella and its evolution in Europe throughout the years. Belloni hopes to adapt the show for a larger audience in the future and is struggling with figuring out how to make it more commercial without selling out. She wants the show to be entertaining, of course, but also to keep its spiritual message in tact, along with her own artistic integrity.
An independent scholar as well as a performer, Belloni has extensively studied the history of music through field research in Italy, as well as written scholarship. During one of her trips back to Italy with John La Barbera in Calabria, she met two folk musicians who became her teachers, Nando Citarella and Vittorio De Paolo, who invited her to participate in the tammorriata in honor of Saint Anne, the Mother of Mary, a festival that takes place in and around a Baroque Church every summer. Participants end the festivities by walking and drumming along a dark road at night until they reach the top of Mount Vesuvius. Belloni was shocked to see the sensuous couples’ dances that were performed and the suggestive lyrics of the songs they were moving to during a religious feast.
She soon learned that these earthy songs and their energetic dances were rooted in ancient Mediterranean pagan rituals performed by Goddess cults that predate Christianity. It was fascinating to Belloni that these groups not only revered feminine figures, but that they encouraged sensuality as a necessary part of spirituality. Belloni also discovered that there were various churches dedicated to variations of the “Black Madonna” around the region, realizing that though the Catholic Church tried to suppress most of these practices over the years, vestiges of them continued to flourish under different auspices within the Church.
As she continued to travel around the world, she found different cultural variations of “dark, mother” worship that incorporated drumming and ecstatic dance as paths to rebirth. Belloni was surprised and delighted to see the commonality with not just other European and African traditions, but Native American ones from the North and South as well. As Alessandra Belloni became a kind of cultural Ambassador for Southern Italian Folk music, lecturing, performing and teaching the esoteric custom, she was also invited to perform at other cultural festivals in a similar manner. Though she discovered a long history of women drummers, she realized that in more recent times, men have taken over the drumming at these events. She often finds herself as the only woman percussionist at many events, a reality she hopes she can change. She is in search of her own protégée to carry on the practice with her. She believes that it is something innate within some, a kind of calling more than a skill.
There have been promising developments along the way—the Tarantella has a renewed popularity among young people in Italy, who once shunned it for being old-fashioned peasant music. Alessandra began winning many honors and awards, produced original CD’s of her singing and drumming, designed her own set of large frame drums and booked performances and workshops all over the world. She has been the artist in Residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City for many years, putting on productions such as the “Alessandra Belloni and the Daughters of Cybele”. This show is composed of an all women ensemble that carries on the tradition of the ancient Roman priestess drummers in honor of the earth Goddess Cybele and others like her who are often left in the footnotes of history books. She also hosts regular workshops for women on dancing and drumming, including an annual weeklong spiritual retreat to Tuscany. She has begun to become more explicit about her belief in the mystical aspects of Taranetella trance. Her recent efforts to help a woman recover from childhood sexual abuse became the focus of an upcoming documentary that explores the historical and contemporary manifestations of the Tarantella.
He work was also featured on CNN’s World Beat and a National Geographic documentary called, Spider Sex.
Alessandra is not just a brilliant musical virtuoso, but a powerful contemporary voice for the power that music possesses. Years ago, Alessandra Belloni found freedom in the euphonious beauty of the villagers’ songs, the healing powers of the ecstatic rhythmic dances that accompanied them and their transcultural implications for sensuality and expression.Today she hopes that men and women alike will discover the beauty and strength of the Tarantella and overcome the metaphorical spider bite that holds us back from living more fully.
Her next show at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on October 18th. Information on her many upcoming performances and workshops can be found on her site.
HIGHLIGHT EVENT OF THE WEEK
Alessandra Belloni’s Rhythm is the Cure Percussion Workshop
By Faith Frenz
Alessandra Belloni is an Italian shaman dancer, singer, performer and healer extraordinaire. This week, she’s in Los Angeles for one of her biannual visits. Among her various activities, she will share — by instruction and performance — her unique talent and understanding of the ancient rituals of the tarantella Spider Dance. Alessandra presents the chants and songs sung as devotion to the Black Madonna (tracing to the ancient rites for the Earth Goddess Cybele), an ancient female healing tradition which uses a powerful tambourine style combined with singing and dancing.
I had the pleasure of taking her brief workshop last week at the North Hollywood Remo Recreational Center, where she has her own line of signature series tambourines made by Remo. Alessandra is a small, intensely sensual and beautiful woman, devoted to her goal of sharing these ancient devotionals around the world for their healing gifts. She is a gifted teacher of a very challenging ritual which taps into the essence of femininity.
Alessandra has a packed schedule here in Los Angeles with numerous opportunities to experience her passionate performance and healing energy. And I urge everyone who reads this to choose an opportunity to witness her up close and personal:
– Sept. 27. (Fri.) Tarantata at the Goddess Temple Orange County. (949)651-0564 or (714) 392-0558.
- Sept. 28 (Sat.) DAY OF THE DRUM, WATTS TOWERS FESTIVAL,11:30 a.m. Los Angeles Watts Towers. 213.847.4646
- Sept. 29. (Sun.) Tarantata at Hollywood Feast of San Gennaro 12:00 p.m.
- Oct. 1. (Tues.) Rhythm is the Cure Percussion Workshop at CalArts. (661) 255-1050
We will be doing an iRoM Q&A with Alessandra during her stay this week, so look for it in the next few days. There is so much to learn from this amazing woman.
How can I describe seeing Alessandra Belloni's Daughters of Cybele Ensemble at NYU's Casa Italiana recently? It was billed as a concert, but it was so much more than that; it was an experience. Skirts swirling, hair flying, dancers spinning and colors spiraling, all to the rhythms of Southern Italian and Brazilian drumming.
The Daughters of Cybele is a group of women musicians and dancers that Belloni brought together a few years ago. Cybele was an ancient goddess known in Italy as Magna Mater (Great Mother) and her priestesses issued oracles from the sacred site of Cumae, a Greek colony just outside of Naples. Belloni named her group in recognition of this powerful tradition.
The music and dance of the Daughters of Cybele were inspired by the ceremonies of ancient Goddesses and priestesses in Southern Italy, Greece, Turkey and North Africa. Over the millennia, these cultures invaded Southern Italy, each one leaving its unique influence. To highlight Middle Eastern contributions to Southern Italian culture, Belloni peppered the show with beautiful belly dances.
And what of the music of Brazil? In her many travels to Brazil, Belloni found the same festivals and devotions to the Goddesses and priestesses that she found in Italy. How was this possible? Generations ago, Southern Italian immigrants brought these devotions to South America, where they are still practiced. Belloni discovered that even some ancient instruments, now scarce in Italy, are played regularly in Brazil. She embraced the Brazilian drumming style and brings it back full circle to Italy in her concerts.
Meanwhile, during the Casa Italiana performance, the tribal and ancient drum beats were the perfect driver behind the ritual trance dances, belly dances, tarantellas and other steps of ritual purification. Many of these songs had been sung by groups of women long ago while working in the fields or mending fishermen's nets. In the performance, long, filmy cloths with vibrant colors were waved and danced, accentuating the music and movement. The songs alternated between bestowing blessings, yearning laments, joyous celebrations and heartfelt invocations. They flowed one to another as if to mimic the sea; either crashing like a wave in a riot of spinning, dancing chaos or ebbing in meditative reverence or deep, internal sorrow.
Belloni's performance of Requiem for Elvira was a highlight, written by Belloni in honor of her mother's death. Closing her eyes, her voice was at its most raw and emotional. She seemed alone in the room, transported. We listened as her voice and drumming created a bridge to another world.
Belloni was voted one of the best female percussionists in the world by Drum Magazine and her talents were on display this night. Her hands flew across the drumheads faster than the eye could follow, as her voice sailed clear and rich over the rhythms. And she danced at the same time.
The Daughters of Cybele musicians are: Alessandra Belloni, vocals, Southern Italian Remo tambourines and frame drums, ocean drum; Eve Sicular, drum set, shakers and dumbeck; Serena Davini, djembe, shakers, snare drum; Beth Mastromarino on tamburello. Dancers: Caterina Rago, Danielle Hartman, Francesca Silvano and Hillary Litwin.
The Daughters of Cybele concert experience is at once unexpected and deeply familiar. You can't escape the knowing that women have been gathering and creating this music for centuries. And in fact, we have.
Belloni has spent a lifetime researching musical rituals in Italy and around the world. Throughout the concert, Belloni educated us all on the history, rituals and ancient fertility and purification rites behind the songs. Some songs drove away the plague, some praised the Black Madonna and some called the mermaids from the sea.
Women singing and playing frame drums can be seen in the mosaics of Pompeii and many other ancient sites. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, artists painted angels singing and playing frame drums in their works, which can be seen today in cathedrals throughout Europe.
Many of the songs performed in the concert invoked the Black Madonna, whose color symbolizes the dark womb of the earth. Evidence of her worship can be found in Italy, Spain, France, Brazil and Turkey, both in ancient times and today. Belloni has a strong connection to the Black Madonna and has composed many songs over the years acknowledging her influence.
The performance at Casa Italiana occurred on the same day as the United Nations International Day to End Violence Against Women. This was not planned, but rather a serendipitous blending of two important events honoring the world's women.
BWW Reviews: VOICES OF THE TARANTATE
With October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Voices of the Tarantate consisting of an all female ensemble, I arrived to the performance expecting an empowering, feminist show. Voices of the Tarantate did not disappoint on that front, but it ended up being so much more than that.
I'll be completely honest; when I arrived at Theater for the New City on Friday night, picked up my program, and began reading about the performance, I thought to myself, "What have I gotten myself into?" Trance dance, drumming, chanting, African percussion- those were just a few things I saw in the program that made me start to sweat. As a twenty-three year old who loves tap dance and contemporary, I began planning my escape route. Like so many people my age (and let's be honest, older folks as well) I was nervous about something I was not familiar with. In the end, however, I left this performance feeling culturally richer and educated, as well as in awe of the passionate dancing I had just witnessed.
For those of you like me who have never heard of the Tarantate, or the Tarrantata, let me give you a little background history. These dances are "healing dances," originating in Italy in honor of the Black Madonna, a dark-skinned Virgin Mary. They involve singing, drumming and trance dance, which is a fast-paced, stomping dance that is all soul and rhythm. The "Tarantella" is appropriately named "the spider dance" by Alessandra Belloni, the writer, director, choreographer, and front-woman of the show, and is a healing dance for depression caused by sexual abuse.
Belloni, who sang, masterfully played the drums, danced, and even composed a few musical pieces in the show, was admirable. She shared her story of recovering from cancer as she opened the show, then encouraged women to come together and heal one another, whether from sickness or abuse. Her passion for dance and music was plain to see, and it was that passion that made this performance so beautiful. Francesca Silvano was another stand-out performer. She was graceful, passionate, and completely let go, moving freely to the music, all while still managing to point her toes. The fearlessness with which she danced was inspiring, and it was wonderful seeing her dance so passionately for something that she truly believes in.
All of the dancing in this performance was simple, yet beautiful to watch. There were no leaps, splits, or turns--simply dancing from the heart, which made for wonderful theater. I was able to follow and understand every movement, despite my ignorance of the culture, and left feeling enriched and educated.
I quickly realized upon arriving to the theater that I was the youngest in the audience, which is a shame. I encourage more people my age to step out of their comfort zones and experience something new. This isn't something you're likely to see on So You Think You Can Dance or Dancing with the Stars. This is dance in its purest form.
If you would like to experience the Tarantata in person, you haven't missed your chance. Belloni will be back for another performance on October 25th at Mehanata Gypsy Club, as well as dance and percussion workshops on November 1st at A Garden of Healing, November 2nd at Chapel of Sacred Mirrors and November 11th at the Italian American Museum. I encourage everyone to come out and experience this little something different.
Due atti contrapposti. Come il bianco e il rosso degli abiti di scena. Un'ora di morte e rinascita, violenza e forza, sangue e fuoco. Questo è il ritmo di “Voices of the Tarantate”. La prima mondiale dello spettacolo scritto e diretto dalla “dea del tamburello” in America, Alessandra Belloni, dedicato alla lotta contro le violenze domestiche, andato in scena al Theatre for the New City.
Le connessioni tra la danza tradizionale pugliese e la lotta alla violenza sulle donne sono molte. “La pizzica tarantata pugliese è la danza terapeutica più antica di tutti i tempi – spiega l'attrice -, era nata proprio per la cura di donne che soffrivano di depressione e manie di suicidio”. “Le persone che ho incontrato nei miei workshop sono guarite dalla depressione. Io stessa sono stata guarita”, continua Belloni.
Calato il sipario, scesa la frenesia che ha portato sul finale gli spettatori a danzare insieme alle “tarantate”, la maga della pizzica rivela ad America24 che non è tutto: “Ho già in mente di fare un libro e un documentario sul tema della violenza sulle donne, ma prima di andare in tv sentivo l'esigenza di portare queste storie in teatro”. Tanti i progetti che Alessandra Belloni ha in cantiere: “Sto scrivendo un Reality show, ci sarò io che giro per il mondo e racconto la mia storia, della violenza subita da mia sorella e del comportamento aggressivo di mio padre, e quelle delle donne che ho conosciuto nei miei workshop”.
Le Figlie di Cibele saranno con lei in questa nuova avventura, per ora la compagnia di interpreti e percussioniste tutta al femminile è impegnata sul palcoscenico dove danzano, cantano e urlano storie vere di stupro, violenze e abusi fino al momento in cui la Madonna Nera, la Grande dea madre, protettrice delle donne non le purifica dal dolore. “Now let's celebrate as we break free from society expectations”, questo il perno sul quale ruota tutto lo spettacolo, il punto di rottura dal quale la scena inizia a illuminarsi di una luce nuova, positiva e catartica.
Alessandra Belloni si esibisce cantando in napoletano, calabrese, pugliese, latino e portoghese, alternando pezzi della tradizione e testi originali scritti da lei, accompagnandosi sempre con i tamburelli. “A suonare - rivelerà ad America24 – ho imparato per strada esibendomi giorno e notte in Italia. Non c'è altra scuola per questo”. A New York invece la nota performer ha frequentato la prestigiosa scuola dell'HB Studio e ha lavorato con Dario Fo: “In due settimane con lui ho capito più cose di teatro che in tutta la vita”.
Voices of the Tarantate
Blending ancient traditions with contemporary inspirations, Alessandra Belloni and company transformed pain to wholeness in ecstatic and cathartic chant and dance.
Choosing National Domestic Violence Awareness Month as the time to premiere her Voices of the Tarantate, internationally acclaimed Italian singer and dancer Alessandra Belloni led her dance troupe, Daughters of Cybele, with additional dancers and performers, in a remarkable performance whose purpose was to examine the annihilating violence of domestic sexual abuse, to identify the rituals of song, dance and folk traditions that can heal the pain, and to celebrate rebirth, wholeness and sanctifying joy.
In the spare, black, open stage space of one of the Theater for the New City’s performance spaces, Belloni began the evening by speaking directly to the small audience. She explained that this work has been many years in the making, having its origins in her own experience with both cancer in 1986 and then the extended process of healing from it. Belloni said that in extreme and disorienting illness, a powerful vision of the Black Madonna, appeared to her; the Black Madonna then protected her and told her that she would become well by feeling other people’s pain. Ever since, Belloni has been leading transformative healing workshops culminating in the tarantella trance dance for victims of trauma and domestic abuse all around the world.
As the Voices of the Tarantate program notes explain, Belloni incorporates ceremonies honoring ancient classical goddesses such as Isis, Aphrodite, Artemis and Hecate with music of Italian, Brazilian, North African and Middle Eastern traditions. Belloni also especially honors the Black Madonna, whose story and statues are particularly important in Spain, Italy, Southern France and Central America: Mary Magdalene, Yemanja and Inanna. Belloni considers drums of all sorts, but especially frame drums and tambourines, to be powerful “female instruments,” embodying the very pulse of the mother-child relationship and functioning also as calls to prayer, parade, seduction and ecstasy.
Quite consciously – and accurately – Belloni presents herself as both an artist and a shaman. In her choreography and composing as well as in her own dancing and singing, Belloni oversees and embodies healing: over the course of the Voices of the Tarantate’smore than twenty short interconnected pieces, she presided over over a primal, sensuous and sometimes wild liturgy of pain, death, rebirth and resurrection.
According to the program notes, the “tarantate” of the work’s title refer to abused peasant women. In this Italian and Spanish medieval tradition, women afflicted with “tarantismo,” (the mental disorder which resulted from “repression of sexuality and erotic desires, exploitation by landowners, and a sad life that made women feel stuck in a spider web”) can only be cured by the “‘Pizzica Tarantata’ … a healing trance dance.”
The evening opened with Belloni and her troupe drumming, chanting and dancing traditional agricultural chants, a lullaby, work songs and laments, and a modernized excerpt from the magnificent late fourteenth century Libre Vermeil de Montserrat as well as the “Pizzica Tarantata.”
At the beginning of the evening, there lurked the possibility of a self-indulgent, somewhat dated earth-goddess-style feminism. Very soon, however, as the musicians’ skill, the dancers’ multifaceted artistry and Belloni’s hypnotic singing revealed the work’s complexity and originality, the primal power of Voices of the Tarantate – alternately tender, sensuous, frenzied, erotic, militant, reverent, delicate and uninhibitedly orgiastic – filled the space and roused the audience to a visceral, positive response.
Belloni’s earthy dark mezzo voice can croon, wail, placate, summon and shimmer. Her own songs, such as “Black Madonna of the Sea” and “Canto di Sant’Irene,” have a timeless feel to them: they are derived from ancient and medieval chants but are clearly modern, accessible even to contemporary audiences with a historical sensibilities.
Belloni’s dance troupe is skilled and ardent. Dancer Francesca Silvano was particularly notable: her movements skillfully incorporated techniques and insights from dance styles including ballet and modern dance, and her dramatic acting was expressive and fluent.
Hilary Posey, known as Amara, offered a sublime performance of belly dance, sword and fire dancing. Her personal statement that these dance genres have “an organic essence … that … embodies and empowers her inner goddess and her wild spirit” made her collaboration with Belloni productive and effective.
Actress and singer Silinea Lucius played a critical role in the work. She provided spoken narratives of violation, abandonment, madness, renewal, sanity and ultimate celebration. She was successful in portraying both an archetype of victim turned victor and a unique woman presenting individual stories. Lucius’ credibility was solid in her monologues, but these texts themselves provided the one significant weakness in Voices of the Tarantate. Within her speeches, modern sociological diagnostic language – phrases such as “domestic violence,” “sexuality,” “intimidation” – seemed intrusive and unnecessary in the presence of spoken and sung material so otherwise compellingly mythic in quality.
Belloni spoke again directly to the audience after the hugely joyful conclusion of the performance. Adding details to some of the information in the lengthy program bulletin, she noted that Voices of the Tarantate was “a leap of faith” in its development and presentation, that she will continue to work with this material, in more music and dance as well as film and a book, and that she is being guided in this ongoing project by the Black Madonna. She shared, “I am mostly a performer.” Then she added with commingled modesty and pride, “I am also a healer.”
Immediately thereafter, she invited audience members to come forward to join with the dancers and drummers. Nine people did indeed then dance with unrestrained abandon and exhilaration.
Belloni’s overall project around these issues of pain and restorative salvation deserves to be much more widely known. Belloni and her music and dance are positive proof that artistic creativity can be part of the solution to some of society’s deepest and most painful problems.
Voices of the Tarantate: Alessandra Belloni and the Daughters of Cybele with Women Drummers against Violence: (October 17 – 20, 2014)
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue and 10th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-254-1109 or visit http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net