Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rhythm is the Cure Workshop in Tuscany this August!

From August 22-29, 2010, you have the chance to experience Tuscany in a unique and life-changing way. Join internationally renowned percussionist, singer, composer, arranger and performer Alessandra Belloni on her 10th annual, soul-enhancing healing journey called Rhythm is the Cure. A few years ago I attended this workshop and it remains one of the highlights of my life. If this experience calls to you, ANSWER! Register early as it is limited to 25 students.

The Workshop
Rhythm is the Cure is a transformative week filled with intensive study, play, and joy. It is a healing workshop featuring Southern Italian ritual dances used as music and dance therapy for centuries throughout the Mediterranean. You'll learn the unique style of tambourine playing and the ancient healing trance dance of the tarantella, used to cure the mythical bite of the tarantula. (To learn more about this rich history, see my interview with Alessandra here.)

The sessions feature the ancient chants used as invocations to the healing energy of the sun, the Black Madonna (whose origins date back to Cybele, the ancient Mother Earth Goddess of female energy), the moon, and the Goddess of Water and Love (known in different parts of the world as Aphrodite, Yemanja and Madonna del Mare).

You will learn the history of this powerful percussion style which dates back to the rites of the Mother Earth Goddess Cybele. The instruments look like oversized tambourines and are more accurately called frame drums or tamburellos. These rites were originally performed mainly by women, and this experience returns us to our lost drumming tradition.

In addition to drumming, Alessandra teaches healing dance rituals:

Tammorriata - This is a beautiful, sensual dance from Naples performed with castanets to the rhythm of a large drum, called the Tammorra. The movements and rhythm are set to an African beat played in 4/4 time. This powerful dance is done during the summer rituals held in honor of the Black Madonna.

Pizzica Tarantata - The wild 6/8 rhythm of the Pizzica, played on medium size tambourines and accompanied by dance and song, was performed for centuries as an exorcism ritual that produced a trance-like state beneficial for healing many mental-health disorders and imbalances. As part of a re-enactment of this healing ritual, Alessandra will lead the participants in a circle dance where they'll create spider-like movements on the ground, releasing stress and blockages of sexual energy, as well as opening the heart and throat chakras.

Ritmo e Danza Di San Rocco (Spinning Dance) - This dance, originating in Calabria during the Middle Ages, was performed during the time of the plague to help people release the overpowering fear of death. Due to the trance-inducing movements and incessant spinning, many people enter ecstatic states during this dance, similar to the Whirling Dervish ceremonies.

Tarantella Alla Montemaranese - A fun Carnevale dance in honor of Baccus, god of wine and ecstasy, also known as Dionysius. The Tarantella alla Montemaranese is danced in a circle to a very syncopated 6/8 rhythm while wearing masks and playing castanets.

Special guest philosopher and writer Angelo Tonelli:
In addition to the intensive dance and percussion study you'll do with Alessandra each day, you'll practice meditation, visualization, and energy work with Italian writer, philosopher, theater director and shaman Angelo Tonelli during his residency. Angelo is a Jungian specialist who combines ancient Greek rituals with Tibetan traditions to conduct enlightening group interactions and exercises.

Cultural Excursion:
An excursion will take place to the stunning marble Duomo of nearby Siena to view a statue of the Black Madonna and multiple images depicting the ancient female drumming tradition. This will be followed by a pilgrimage to the Abbey of San Galgano, a spectacular ruin of a Cistercian gothic abbey, to hold a special drumming ceremony. (To see an image of the Abbey, click here.) At sunset, the group will drum while walking up the hill to the extraordinary Hermitage Montesiepi, which houses another powerful Black Madonna.

Alessandra Belloni
Alessandra Belloni is the author of Rhythm is the Cure, Southern Italian Tambourine, the result of 25 years of field research and the foremost book on the subject. She is a singer, percussionist, dancer, composer, Artist in Residence at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine and co-founder and director of the Italian theatre Group I Giullari Di Piazza.

She is the only woman in the U.S. and Italy specializing in Southern Italian percussion, ritual dances and singing. She has participated for over twenty years in authentic drumming festivals in remote areas of Southern Italy held in honor of the Black Madonna and rituals of purification. Often called a "Mediterranean Volcano", Alessandra was born in Italy and is committed to preserving the rich traditions of her culture.

She has been nominated among the Best Drummers of World Percussion by Drum Magazine along with Baba Olatunji, Mickey Hart and Arthur Hull. She can be found in feature stories in the New York Times, Modern Drummer and Rhythm & Drum Magazine.

Alessandra has performed in some of the world’s most prestigious spaces, including Alice Tully Hall & New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Carnegie Recital Hall (New York) & Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Caramoor Center for Music and Arts, Madison Square Garden Felt Forum, New York’s Symphony Space, Metropolitan Museum, The Cloisters, St. Mark's Church, Theatre of the United Nations (NY), World Music festival in Hawaii (Leehman Arts Center) Teatro Castro Alves, Bahia, Brazil - Teatro SESC Ipiranga in San Paolo, Cultural Center in Tel Aviv, Israel, Cleveland Palace Theatre & Cleveland Museum of Art with Dancing Wheels Monterey World Music festival, World Festival of Sacred Music (Los Angeles) Epcot Center (Walt Disney World), Universal Studios and UCLA in Los Angeles, YALE University, Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., Kennedy Center (Washington DC) Field Museum Park in Chicago.

The Villa
The workshop is held at La Chiara di Prumiano, six centuries old in the Chianti region of Tuscany, near Siena. Even if you can’t translate the villa’s website,, from Italian, I recommend looking at the photographs. I have stayed at this villa, and it is wonderful! Spacious and decorated with tile floors and dark, polished wood, I entered the villa and felt the pressures of my regular life slide off my shoulders. Each bedroom, whether single, double or triple, has modern bathrooms and is beautifully appointed.

The food at Prumiano can only be described as spectacular. Breakfasts are continental and completely satisfying (which is not true everywhere you go). Lunches and dinners are feasts that the kitchen staff creates from fresh ingredients grown on the villa property. They pride themselves on serving cuisine that is beneficial to the body and mind and tastes like heaven. These wonderful meals are eaten at long tables under a large, vine-covered pergola on the patio.

Prumiano offers a swimming pool and stables on the grounds. Imagine horseback riding in the Tuscan hills….I’ve done it, and it’s unforgettable. The villa also offers shiatsu and ayurvedic massage. In addition, you’ll find spas, mudbaths and a lake nearby.

For additional information, contact

Learn more about this special workshop, including prices and registration by downloading this brochure. Just click on the orange Menu button and select Download Doc. Be sure to download all 4 pages:

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Puppets From Bergamo Bring Out the Child In All of Us

If you think you’re too sophisticated to enjoy an old fashioned puppet show, I invite you to think again.

Isn’t it wonderful to get lost in a story? To escape the everyday, to be focused so entirely on the actions happening before your eyes that all else is temporarily forgotten? This is how it was when we were children, our eyes wide with wonder, enraptured in the moment. And this is how it was for all of us watching the puppet show Arlecchino Malato d’Amore (Arlecchino Lovesick) at NYU’s Casa Italiana on March 31, 2010.

Maria Teresa Zenoni poses with Smeraldina. Photo by Rosanne Masone.

The plot goes like this: Arlecchino loves Smeraldina but her father Pantalone rejects Arlecchino in favor of the apparently rich Marquis, whose wealth is a sham and who schemes with his deceitful servant, Brigella, to pay off his debts with Smeraldina’s dowry. Arlecchino and his faithful friend, Gioppino, expose the truth and win Pantalone’s approval and thereby, Smeraldina’s hand in marriage. Does the plot seem familiar? Of course it does. It’s just one of a host of centuries-old morality plays drawn from Italy’s rich tradition of Commedia dell’Arte.

Commedia dell’Arte developed in the mid-15th century as a form of professional improvised theater tradition incorporating characters throughout Italy. The characters are drawn from Italy’s distinct regions, towns, and dialects and over time, became stock characters such as Arlecchino, the Doctor and Pulcinella. The art of pantomime, Harlequin and England’s favorite puppet characters, Punch and Judy, all owe their beginnings to Commedia dell’Arte. Some of its plot lines found their way into opera buffa by such composers as Verdi, Rossini and Puccini.

What began as actors on a stage later branched into puppet shows on rolling carts that entertained people in virtually every Italian town. This tradition was brought to America during the great migration of the last century, and many people still recall these shows with delight, held in the streets of Brooklyn and Little Italy.

Today, master puppet maker Daniele Cortesi continues this tradition. Straight from Caravaggio in the province of Bergamo, near Milan, Italy, Cortesi and his small band of dedicated artisans traveled to New York City for a rare appearance. The colorful costumes, endearing characters, beautiful sets and universal themes captured the attention of all the children in the room, aged 1 to 100.

Brigella, Smeraldina and Arlecchino.

The sheer mechanics of the show are daunting. The stage itself had to be constructed in New York, as it was impossible to bring the Bergamo stage abroad. Each puppeteer plays multiple characters, each with different voices and mannerisms. The puppeteers are hidden, standing behind and under the stage with their arms stretched overhead with puppets on each hand. The signature slapstick of the show required precise movement and timing for comedic effect and these experts made it look effortless. To watch a short video of a performance, click here.

Daniele Cortesi describes his mastery of puppet making and performing as a mysterious calling that is difficult to explain. After studying puppet making at La Yorik di Milano, he later studied with master sculptor Natale Panaro at Il Teatro Verdi, also in Milan and Velia Mantegazza. With them, he worked on the children’s television show L’Albero Azzurro.

Carolyn Masone poses with Gioppino. Photo by Rosanne Masone.

Cortesi’s puppets exemplify distinct characters from Bergamo, and he credits his mentor maestro Benedetto Ravasio with teaching him the very best in Bergamo’s puppeteer tradition, from conception to woodworking to performing. For example, Gioppino Zuccalunga, Arlecchino’s faithful friend, is made with goiters on his neck. This is because centuries ago the citizens of Bergamo lacked sufficient amounts of the mineral iodine, causing many of them to suffer from goiters. This trait of Gioppino has remained unchanged through the centuries, as with all the Commedia dell’Arte characters.

The rich history, tradition, heart-tugging stories and hilarious comedy are what makes Commedia dell’Arte as relevant today as ever. And all of these elements are lovingly preserved by Daniele Cortesi and his troupe.

To learn more about Daniele Cortesi, including his DVD, Fuori e Dentro La Baracca, and his book, Dare l’Anima, click here.

To learn about future events at NYU’s Casa Italiana, click here.