Alessandra Belloni (www.alessandrabelloni.com)
As part of my architecture degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, I spent a year studying abroad in the Italian city of Florence. Needless to say that it was one of the greatest experiences of my life when I was immersed in Italian food, art, architecture and culture.
On Wednesday (Feb. 4, 2015) evening at REDCAT located in the Walt Disney Hall complex, I was transported not just back to Italy but learned much more about Italian culture thanks to the performance of “Tarantata Spider Dance” created by Italian artist, singer and percussion/tambourine virtuoso Alessandra Belloni.
The tarantella is a type of folk dance native to the Italian southern region and is related to the pagan ritual of the Greek god Dionysus (Bacchus in Roman mythology) who was the god of wine, madness, fertility and religious ecstasy. It was believed that many, mostly women, became afflicted with a condition called taranate caused by the bite of a wolf spider which would lead to tarantism that could only be cured by a ritualistic dance called The Tarantella.
It is interesting to note that much like the indigenous people of the Americas and the slaves brought over from Africa to the new world, the southern Italians used syncretism (the combination of different forms of beliefs or religious practices) in order to worship their deities while being accepted by the catholic church. The Greek god Dionysus in this case was replaced with the catholic St. Paul, the saint who heals.
The evening began with the “Tarantella Di Sann’lcandro” from the southern region of Puglia, as two lovers feel the bite of the tarantula spider and go into an erotic frenzy and make love. Accompanied by a 10-piece orchestra to the left of the stage, Belloni entered striking an Italian tambourine while wailing with her operatic strength voice as she accompanied the dancers. Joining her on the stage was talented Italian violinist Concetta Abatte, John Paul Tobin (viola), Wilson Montuori (acoustic guitar), Massimo Cusato (drums & tambourine), Greg Dormani (guitar, mandolin) and several percussionists on the box drums.
A “Prologue: The Myth of Aracne” told the Greek mythical story that was the start of the tarantella tradition. It seems that a beautiful princess Aracne was a skilled weaver who challenged the goddess Athena (Minerva in Roman mythology) to a weaving competition; and while she won the contest, the goddess turned her into a spider in a jealous rage. This was the start of the myth of the Tarantula and the beginning of the ritualistic healing power of the tarantella dance as explained and presented to us by the energetic and charismatic Belloni, accompanied by actor Randy Vasquez as the voice of Dionysus.
Made up of local and international artists, the I Giullari Di Piazza Dancers performed the very intricate and sometimes hypnotic pieces with passion, including the mesmerizing Francesca Silvano who along with Peter DiGeronimo were featured in most of the dance segments throughout the evening. Several original compositions were specifically written by Belloni for this performance, including “The Night of the Shooting Stars” and “Black Madonna of the Sea” dedicated to St. Sarah the Black Madonna, Queen of the Gypsies.
The choreography by Belloni and Silvano on this portion of the program was part modern dance, Capoeira martial arts fused with spider-like contortionism as the dancers exorcised their demons with the pulsating percussion of the tambourine as the driving force. Adding to the spider theme was aerial artist Cheryl Broughton performing a “Cirque du Soleil” style performance on several of the numbers, as she floated overhead on two draped fabric pieces suspended from the ceiling.
While the first part was a historical tour of the tarantella dance throughout history, the second part of the program featured traditional versions of this dance from Italy and its incarnation in Brazil. From the seaside city of Naples, Italy came the piece “Jesce Sole,” danced to a traditional healing chant dedicated to the rising of the sun after the dark night. Headed by performing artist Sharon Livardo du Maine dressed in a sun-like mask and on stilts, the dance incorporated a pole with multiple colored ribbons that were used by the dancers in a complex circular pattern.
To show how the Tarantella dance has migrated and has close ties to other cultures and countries an original piece, “Canto Di Sant’irene,” was composed by Belloni and dedicated to the African/Brazilian orisha (deity) Yemanja who in the Yoruba religion represents motherhood and reigns over the seas. Headed by singer Vida Vierra and the wonderful dancer Dani Lunn, this show stopping number capped off an evening of dance, myth, history and spiritual healing at the hands of the incomparable Alessandra Belloni.