Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Chants of Southern Italy Come to the Mehanata Club, NYC

This article also appears on our Italian Journal page.

On June 11, 2009, The Mehanata Club on Ludlow Street reverberated with the rituals, chants and work songs of ancient Southern Italy. I Giulliari di Piazza, a music and dance troupe dedicated to the preservation and rejuvenation of the healing drumming tradition to cure the mythical bite of the tarantula, worked its magic on the enthusiastic crowd. Alessandra Belloni’s clear, bell-toned singing voice soared as she whirled, danced and played various frame drums, at often astonishing speeds.
John T. LaBarbera, co-founder of I Giulliari and Belloni’s musical collaborator for some thirty years, brought his profound understanding of the passionate rhythms to the fore. On both guitar and mandolin, LaBarbera’s articulation expanded the ancient melodies and made them accessible to contemporary listeners.

Joe Deninzon, known as the Jimi Hendrix of the electric violin, played at a sometimes dizzying pace while whirling on his back on the dance floor.

Along with Belloni, Vinnie Scialla played percussion and his driving, relentless beats laid the perfect rhythmic backdrop for the ensemble.

Antonio Fini, the fire dancer in Belloni’s show, Techno Tarantella, danced many of the pieces with Belloni, with audience members or alone. A member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Fini performed with an almost fearless quality of blending choreography from ancient times to the Renaissance to Modern.

Audience participation was the watchword for the show, and many of us couldn’t resist the siren call of the spider dance. Despite the venue’s small size and the rising temperature on the dance floor, the audience improvised its own dance steps and joined in the exhilaration. At the end of a raucous Tarantella Pizzica and Belloni’s announcement that the show was over, the audience chanted, “One More Song!” until she gave in.

To learn more about Alessandra Belloni, listen to our Podcasts with her or read the podcast transcripts on our Italian Journal page.

To learn more about John T. LaBarbera, listen to all 3 of our Podcasts with him or read the podcast transcripts on our Italian Journal page.

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