Meet Alessandra Belloni
Gina Capossela hosts Alessandra Belloni in Lebanon, NH on June 1 and 2. Alessandra is an amazing drummer, singer, and dancer who specializes in the ancient folkloric and ritual dances of her native southern Italy.
About Alessandra Belloni
Tambourine virtuoso singer, dancer, and actress Alessandra Belloni is renowned in her field and travels worldwide to perform group and solo concerts in theaters, universities, and international percussion festivals. Belloni began her career in her native Rome with the great actress Anna Magnani in "La Lupa", and with legendary film director Federico Fellini in "Casanova". She is artistic director and leading performer of I Giullari di Piazza, an ensemble of musicians, vocalists, and dancers that specializes in authentic southern Italian music and theater events dating back to the 13th century. Belloni is a REMO artist and designer of her signature series of Italian tambourines; she is also the author of the book & DVD Rhythm is the Cure, published by Mel Bay. The only artist in the world who specializes in southern Italian tambourines combined with singing and dance, Belloni was selected as one of the best percussionists in the world by DRUM! magazine, and has been acclaimed in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and featured in Modern Drummer and Percussive. She has been invited to appear in percussion festivals in London, Brazil, Poland, France, Italy, Australia, Rome, and throughout the US.
Alessandra graciously took some time out of her very busy schedule to answer a few questions for BDNE:
Are the dances you teach considered folk dance? Sacred dance? Both?
They are considered both, mainly ritual trance dances with ancient origins, done mainly as ceremonies. But they are as well folkloric and done on social occasions.
For the average belly dancer (our audience), what are the advantages of learning folkloric dance, particularly dances that are not of Middle-Eastern origin?
Actually, the Tarantella has ancient roots both in Greece (southern Italy was a part of Greece called "Magna grecia") and Turkey, as the tammorriata was done in honor of the Black Madonna which is a derivation of the ancient ritual dances for Cybele, the goddess the Earth, originally from Anatolia, Turkey. You will see this in many steps and hip movements, also some of the arm movements. The gypsies who traveled through the Mediterranean have connected all these dances through the centuries. I think it is very important for belly dancers to connect to other ancient Mediterranean dances that have the same roots, but which have more spiritual and healing tradition.
How do you feel about these dances being brought into public performance, or moves from the dances being "fused" with other dance styles?
For the last six years, I have been working and performing a musical (hope to make it into a long off-Broadway run) called TARANTELLA SPIDER DANCE, about the healing power of the tarantella and Dionysus. I love making a musical connection between ancient and modern, and have been using what I call the TECHNO TARANTELLA BEAT created especially for this show by my violinist Joe Deninzon, who is a master of electric violin with effects. We went to the studio together many times and laid tracks that we then remixed and made into very beautiful chants and trance dances. The dances and choreography are a fusion of traditional and modern, and it took me a long time to find the right dancers, usually from Italy, that can actually blend these styles together and look powerful and not out of place, but it is a difficult task.
My wonderful violinist actually goes on the floor as a tarantato at the end of our concerts, really letting go on his back with his legs up in the air, as he keeps playing the very fast pizzica tarantata on his violin without missing a note! Really spectacular, and this really gets the audience involved as everyone feels the need in our modern day society to let go and release through the wild Spider Dance the poison and toxins out of our body and break the imaginary spider web that traps us in our everyday life.
My best experiences as teacher are during my annual healing dance and percussion workshop in Tuscany, this year planned for August 19 - 26.
What do you feel it is about percussion and the human voice and dance that creates such a powerful, sometimes spiritual experience?
My work both as teacher and performer is dedicated to the healing power of rhythm and dance and its spiritual connections. Especially focusing on the ancient tarantella trance dance. I have had my own healing experience with the dance, and healed myself from irregular bleeding and cancerous cells of the cervix, which led me to the creation of workshops and performances to help heal women from depression and sadness caused by abuse, unrequited love, and exploitation by the male dominated society.
The historic Dance of the Tarantula is a healing trance dance ritual from Southern Italy (in ancient times Magna Greacia, part of Greece) for women from the Greek rites of the Baccantes, in honor of Dionysus, the god of ecstasy and wine (Baccus). Women involved in these rites (later called Tarantate) danced the "Pizzica Tarantata" ("the bite of the spider tarantula", also called "the bite of love"). A bite of love drives them to dance in a wild frenzy in order to free themselves of repressed sexual desires.
The dominant music is the voice and the percussion, with large tambourines playing non-stop to a 12/8 beat with loud accents. By spinning and stomping their feet, participants symbolically expell the "poison" of the mythical bite of the tarantula from their bodies. A double row of jingles on the instruments accentuates the madness as dancers, traditionally clad in white with red scarves and ribbons, move on their backs like spiders. All participants customarily experienced a trance-like state induced by the combination of music and dancing. The voice has the power to reach the divine spirit and the 6/8 rhythm creates a trance or altered state of mind during which I have visions and the person also receives the "vision" or healing.
In its modern sense, the dance aims to involve women of all ages and men in a collective ritual dance of liberation from the spider web of entrapment in today's society. It aims for an ecstatic release known as the Pizzica, or Spider Dance, whose origins are cross-cultural. Its music derives from ancient Greece, southern Italy during the Crusades, the Renaissance and modern times, blending modern and ancient healing trance dances (Whirling Dervishes and Gnawa from Morocco), powerful ritual drumming and chants in honor of the Black Madonna.
When did you start drumming? What pulled you in the direction you followed in your interests and career?
I was always a singer since I was a little girl and loved acting as well. Then I moved to New York to study theatre and music as my father would not let me do it in Rome, and when I went back to Italy I heard the southern Italian folk music and drumming and fell in love with it, especially with powerful tambourine style.
From my book Rhythm is the Cure with Mel Bay Publications: "In Italy during the late seventies, a great revival started of the ancient Southern Italian folk culture combining music, dance and theatre, known as “Musica and Teatro Popolare”.
I had been living in New York for several years, studying theatre and music and on my trips back to Italy I met a group of women who invited me to be part of a concert where I learned some amazing women's work chants from Naples, Puglia, Calabria, and Sicily. The music was haunting and powerful and I wanted to learn more as I found that it touched deeply into my heart. Thanks to the Neapolitan writer and ethnomusicologist Roberto De Simone and his fantastic company NUOVA COMPAGNIA DI CANTO POPOLARE, my generation learned to appreciate the musical and theatrical traditions of the so-called peasants of the South, who have a rich folklore directly connected to their agricultural life and to the Earth. I was born in Rome, where unfortunately, the Vatican has repressed most manifestations of these ancient pre-Christian rites.
In Italy, I also saw an amazing tambourine player Alfio Antico. This wild, strong shepherd from the mountains of Sicily used the large Sicilian tambourine in such a fast complicated way, it was totally like casting a magic spell on all people around him who watched speechless and enchanted. I was certainly bewitched by Alfio's wild power on the drum and this power convinced me that I could learn how to do that too, if I really wanted. I tried to learn how to play the tambourine from him whenever I saw him at different times, even though he did not teach, but just transported you in his wilderness.
Only later I realized that the fast 6/8 rhythm of the tarantella recalled something very familiar that I heard in my childhood. My grandfather on my mother's side came from the mountains outside of Rome (Rocca Di Papa) and played in his town’s band the tambourine, the snare drum, and the mandolin, even though he was deaf and never went to school. Like Alfio he was self taught. My grandmother sang all the folk songs from Lazio, and that is how they met and fell in love, singing and playing Italian folk music. In our Sunday’s family gatherings in the countryside he played together with his brother on the accordion, accompanying my grandmother singing tarantelle and saltarelli from our region, Lazio. I realized that I had gone full circle back to my roots, and even though I did not learn directly from them, I felt I had to bring my ancestors back right here in New York.
More about Alessandra
Find Alessandra on Facebook
Alessandra on YouTube
TARANTELLA TRANCE DANCE film trailer
Alessandra Belloni Live Appearance on ABC-TV7 Chicago
Alessandra Belloni featured on CNN Worldbeat
Alessandra Belloni "Spider Sex" documentary on National Geographic
BARE FEET TV PROGRAM – DANCE AND PERCUSSION WORKSHOP