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Alessandra Belloni to Bring FEAST OF THE TARANTATI to Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 6/29

Alessandra Belloni and her performance troupe, I Giullari di Piazza, will return June 29 to Cathedral of St. John the Divine with "Feast of the Tarantati" (Feast of Apulia), an ancient healing tradition with Tarantella trance dances and healing chants for the Black Madonna. In Italy, the ritual is traditionally celebrated in a church in Apulia. This will be the first time that Alessandra Belloni and I Giullari Di Piazza will reenact the ceremony inside a church in New York. At the conclusion of the performance, the audience will be invited to join in "releasing the poison and venom from our bodies and souls." I Giullari di Piazza is a resident company of Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

The piece reenacts an ancient Tarantati Trance Ritual, traditionally celebrated in Italy on June 29 (Fast of St. Paul) for the benefit of people, mainly women, who suffered from a form of depression or psychiatric disorder that was attributed to the bite of the tarantula. The company will stage the ceremony as it was done for many centuries around the altar in the small church of San Paolo di Galatina in the Apulia region (the heel of Italy's "boot"). The performance includes excerpts of the Christian ceremony's progenitor, which is based on ecstatic rites of Dionysus.

The "bite of the tarantula" was a myth applied to a condition familiar to women through the centuries who experienced abuse, repressed sexuality, powerlessness, and the feeling of being "caught in a web that binds them." Sufferers, known as "tarantate," endure "tarantismo," a lethal mixture of depression, loneliness, and oppression. This performance reenacts the healing journey of a "tarantata" as she is taken by Dionysus to the Shaman (played by Alessandra Belloni), who cures her with a "pizzica tarantata," a wild erotic trance dance which is attended by townspeople in the piazza. It's an amazing journey that also includes the powerful procession of the Black Madonna, an icon known in Southern Italy and Brazil that symbolizes womanhood and provides miraculous release.

The ritual is actually an ancient form of music and dance therapy dating back to ancient Greek rituals of Dionysus and his female followers, The Bacchae. Ever syncretic, the early Christians adapted the figure of Dionysus into St Paul and the wild orgiastic ceremony of The Bacchae into a healing trance ritual that became widespread through southern Italy. People who suffered from the "bite of the tarantula," also known as the bite of love, danced in a frenzy for three days to the 6/8 rhythm of the Tarantella while dressed in white. All the tarantati then assembled in a collective euphoria in a small church in Apulia, St Paul of Galatina, releasing their last cries of madness and anguish to the sounds of tambourines. Most women who had been tarantati had a history of sexual abuse, violence or unrequited love.

Based on meticulous research, the I Giullari di Piazza performance has costumes and instrumentation that are as authentic as possible. 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. Traditional instruments include flute, folk guitar, piccolo recorders, frame drums, tambourines and dumbeck. In places, the event is enhanced with Brazilian rhythms and there are some modern music segments where electric violin, guitar and techno beats have been added.

The performers are Alessandra Belloni (lead vocals, ritual dance, tambourines, frame drums), Joe Dennizon (electric and acoustic violin), Wilson Montuori (electric and acoustic guitar), Susan Eberenz (flute, piccolo, recorders), Peter Abazia (drum set, percussion) and Giuseppe De Falco (Neapolitan singer). The dancers are Peter De Geronimo (as Dionysus), Francesca Silvano (as The Tarantata), Greta Campo and Mark Mindek (as Aracne Stilt Dancer).

Alessandra Belloni has also spent many years reviving the traditions of the Tarantella in workshops for abused and traumatized women. Her experiences in helping to heal and empower these women inspired her to write this production to tell their stories and to honor the ancient wisdom of the dance and its power to change lives. Ms. Belloni has given workshops in the Tarantella around the U.S. and in Europe and South America, earning her a reputation as a shaman (healer). An account of her dance therapy workshops for abused and traumatized women can be seen in a documentary film, "Diva Shaman: Trace-forming Lives" (2014), co-written by Juliet Gentile (

On May 1, Ms. Belloni received an award for achievement in the Performing Arts from the Association of Italian American Educators.

Photo by Steven Las Heras

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