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Jon Pareles of The New York Times, reviewing an I Giullari di Piazza show, remarked that

"Ms. Belloni sang in an exultant voice. The songs blazed with an age-old momentum." 

"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" .

Belloni Heightens Impact of Italian Song, Dance

World Music Review


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


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


Extraordinary vocalist, hand-percussionist and dancer Alessandra Belloni creates a voluptuous exploration of Tarantella—the frenzied ritual dances that enact the release of built-up erotic desire— in a contemporary incarnation of the southern Italian folk form. In the traditional “Pizzica Tarantata” healing rite, performers suffering the effects of spider “love bite” are accompanied by furious percussion as they spin, stomp, writhe and otherwise work up an ecstatic lather in a bid to purge the “venom” from their bodies. Belloni uses both traditional and modern instrumentation to dramatize an account of the curative power of the ritual.

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.

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.

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.

With her compelling stage presence, throaty mezzo, and raging tambourine, Allessandra Belloni is a force of nature. Through Southern Italian folk music, chant, and dance, Belloni and her company explored the sound and movement world of tarantella trance dancing at Disney Hall's Redcat.

Belloni's virtuosity on the tambourine is without question. Along with traditional instruments played onstage by an ensemble of musicians, her music director, Joe Deninzon adds modern electronic dance beats.

Drum Magazine noted that "Italian-born virtuoso Alessandra Belloni is established as a unique phenomenon, not just a percussionist, but also an actress, lecturer, entertainer, and healer."

A Review

On December 19 and 20Drums 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


Excerpts from Drums of Illumination: Drumming for World Peace, a Magical Winter Solstice Celebration. Recorded December 20, 2011 at the Theatre for the New City in New York.


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.

Edgewater's Alessandra Belloni explores the tarantella's colorful roots  

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.


Born: Rome.

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."

Web site: or

Next performance: Tarantella Spider Dance, Friday to next Sunday, Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., Manhattan. $20. 212-254-1109or

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)

Classical Music in Review
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




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.

The Model Critic Reviews: Tarantella: Spider Dance at Theatre for the New City, New York