Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic

In popular culture the Tarantella is mostly associated with a high spirited, Italian folk dance performed at wedding celebrations, or perhaps more formally, in a character dance for ballet along with mazurkas, polkas, and other traditional festive fare. Who can forget the Michael Corleone wedding scene in the Godfather 1?

Forget all that! Alessandra Belloni‘s Spider Dance takes her audience on a spectacular historical, hypnotic, and soul-liberating trance dance experience as she traces the origins of the Tarantella and its myths and evolutions.

Beginning in Greece, Aracne, the beautiful princess, who weaves the most beautiful and skilled linens of all, challenges Athena, goddess of love, to a weaving contest. When Aracne wins, Athena in her fury, destroys the linen and rips it into a thousand pieces. Aracne, humiliated, hangs herself.  Athena, then out of pity, transforms her into a spider, condemning her to weave her web forever.

“Rarely on stage does a choreographer get to the heart of the matter like Alessandra Belloni. “

From Greece we move to Southern Italy where the bite of the taranti, or little spider, would send working women of the fields into fits of convulsive dance to rid the body of the poisons.  They were known as tarantate, and others would join in the frenzied dance that could last for days. They danced the Pizzica Tarantata (bite of love) that would evolve into a Dionysian cathartic revel, purging victims of  the poisons within–sexual repression, social mistreatment, abuse, depression. Or similarly, as Blake poetically wrote, the mind-forged manacles imposed on oneself from within and without.

The performance conjures up caravans of gypsies, witches, and shamans at orgiastic gatherings, from Greece, Italy, French Basque country, to present day Brazil; all with the repetitive driving beat of the tarantella–tambourines, flutes, piccolos, wild techno violin, and  plaintive chanting.  The dancers respond to the quick and energetic trance music with the basic tarantella steps of hops, spins, and skips, but weave them into wild writhing on the floor as the music intensifies, and demons are released. Francesca Silvano was especially enchanting as Arianna, as she performed most of the dances with wild sensuality and grace. This is clearly not a social outing at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Ms. Belloni incorporates so many electrifying elements of movement, an aerialist, a fire-twirling performance, Death, portrayed on stilts, capoeira, and authentic period costumes.

Rarely on stage does a choreographer get to the heart of the matter like Alessandra Belloni.  You are reminded of primitive fertility dances of Africa; of sun-worshiping dances of the Incas during spring plantings; of the Sufi’s Whirling Dervishes, invoking and blending with all things in universal rotation; of the ancient Balinese gamelan and dancers, along with the sound of the gong to communicate with the  gods; to even the Shakers, and “shake and the word will be revealed.”  All these examples of elemental dances that we could call trance dances, of worship, of liberation, of connection.

The Tarantella, of course, morphed into a courtship dance, then a dance of celebration. Naples, Calabria, and Sicily are have versions to the ancient underpinnings as the tradition continues.  Alessandra actually has her 13th Annual Workshop Rhythm is the Cure, August 19-26, 2013, in Italy, focusing on the origins of the Tarantella as a healing trance dance of purification, and Southern Italian tambourine workshops among other offerings. When you consider how many classical musical composers used the same elements of the Tarantella in their work–Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, etc–you begin to see the deep influence that this music and dance has inspired throughout the ages.  Her performance is like no other in its originality and content, and she strikes a deep chord of truth.

Theater for the New City, New York
I Giullari Di Piazza
Choreography by Alessandra Belloni