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Jessica Abrams
Music and Dance Reviews
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Performance Reviews
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

Allessandra Belloni Tells Tarantella's Tales

by Jessica Abrams
February 9, 2015
(Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater - in the Walt Disney Concert Hall)
631 W. 2nd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Everyone loves a good Tarantella, that upbeat folk dance bursting with color and tambourines. Balanchine choreographed one; Debussy, Chopin and Liszt wrote them; and in her blockbuster series known as "Harry Potter", author J.K. Rowling makes mention of one. But few know that this fast-paced dance has its origins in the Dionysian rites of ancient Greece. The story goes that the bite of the tarantula was said to inspire "trance dances" whose power purged the bite and cured the victim. These dances could last for days, acting as both afflictions and cures and involving mostly women. Despite the sterilization by the Romans of such pagan rites – or, in many cases, the renaming of them – the idea of the orgiastic dances as cure for disease stuck, particularly in Southern Italy, which, not coincidentally, was said to have been a favorite spot of Dionysus.

ALLESANDRA BELLONI: Tarantata Spider Dance performed last week at REDCAT, was a visual, auditory and choreographic history of tarantella, from its origins in the Apulia region of Italy to its various universal incarnations up to and into modern times. Belloni, a Rome-based internationally-renowned tambourine virtuoso, singer, dancer and choreographer, acts as both narrator and participant in this lush pageant play which involves ten dancers and ten musicians, and Belloni herself, all of which are onstage for a large part of the show.

The performance began with the "Tarantella Di Sann'Icandro," a piece about two young lovers who have experienced the bite of the tarantula. Clad in peasant garb to accompany the traditional, almost "Riverdance"-like steps, the dancers move into and away from each other, their passion luring them together, their fear pulling them apart. A narrator, Randy Vasquez, appears on stage, taking us into the next section, the "Myth of Aracne." As he narrates the story of the weaver princess in Greece who was challenged by the Goddess Athena and lost, the dancer Sharon Li Vardo appeared on stage. Li Vardo, whose dancing manageed the difficult task of combining litheness with solidity, performed a visually stunning pas de deux with a bright orange scarf. She was taunted by Belloni herself, wearing a gold tunic and a mask, and was eventually joined by five other dancers, all wearing the same orange scarf. The effect was dazzling, ethereal; the movement athletic and energized; the dancers completely in sync with the musicians on stage, each playing off the other.

A black rope soon descended from the ceiling and a dancer (Francesca Silvano) began to slither up it. This section was entitled "Lu Rusciu di Lu Mari," The Sound of the Sea, and told the tale of unrequited love, damning both parties to become tarantati. As the story goes, Athena, in a moment of compassion, transforms Aracne into a spider rather than see her hang herself. While Silvano expertly dances several dozen feet above us, the other dancers lay on the floor on their backs, their legs bent and hooked together to resemble one big tarantula.

A sensual pas de deux followed, in the section known as "The Night of the Shooting Stars" which took us back to the Tarantella's Dionysian roots. Three women and a man dance together, taking turns moving into and out of each others' arms, generously giving of each other. The movement, sensual, fluid, expressive, tells the tale of a breaking down of boundaries, of inhibitions, one last hurrah before the dancers emerged wielding swords and the oppressive period of the Middle Ages was upon us.

As Vasquez, our narrator, told of the Black Death, it came out onstage in the form of a dancer (Mark Mindek) on stilts, his face covered, his body clothed in draping black garments. The "people" – i.e., the other dancers, cower in fear before him, until Spring bursts forth – a dancer, clad in all white, spinning with a pink scarf. She spun seemingly endlessly, the scarf around, below and above her, an amazing feat of virtuosity as well as a celebration of the triumphs of the spirit over oppressive thinking.

The idea of dance as a healing ritual has been explored in many forms and within many contexts; but its full power was felt that night at REDCAT as Allessandra Belloni and company took the audience on a tour of this deeply spiritual rite.
Whether cause or a cure, she showed us that the tarantella is alive and well as a panacea for the soul, not to mention a myth whose tentacles are embedded in numerous cultures and time periods.
REDCAT Alessandra Belloni: Tarantata Spider Dance 2-3-2015

REDCAT Alessandra Belloni: Tarantata Spider Dance 2-3-2015

REDCAT Alessandra Belloni: Tarantata Spider Dance 2-3-2015

REDCAT Alessandra Belloni: Tarantata Spider Dance 2-3-2015

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