Reviving a thousand-year-old ritual dance

Dance and music are integral parts of a country’s history and culture, and the best way to preserve them is to continuously develop them by educating each generation about the essence of having unique identity.

Sometimes, we wish that there were more artists in the Philippines that promote cultural dance and music or perhaps make them relevant to the young public by giving them a new twist like what an Italian ensemble does to a thousand year old ritual dance.

Early this month, a cultural and musical movement created by the Italian singer-song writer Eugenio Bennato visited the country to promote Tarantella—an ancient ritual dance from Sicily and Sardinia. The ritual dance is done to cure a person bitten by a tarantula, hence called Tarantella. Legend has it that the bite of the poisonous spider could be cured by frenzied dancing accompanied by an upbeat tempo that lasts for three to five hours.

According to Bennato, Tarantella is a visual synthesis of a universe of rhythm and myth and history whose roots go far back into the ancient culture of the peninsula spread out to the Mediterranean.

“It’s a very ancient dance but nowadays  it is important to stress that Tarantella is performed by young people, especially, in the South,” Bennato says.

Bennato, who is a prominent figure on the Italian music scene, founded the group in 1998 during wake of an extraordinary renewed interest in the ritual Tarantella rhythms among the younger generation. The group advanced the proliferation of this dance through various creative forms like music, cinema, and theatre.

The ensemble is consisted of a guitarist and a singer-songwriter, soloists (cellist, percussion-guitarist, and percussionist), singers and a dancer. The group’s strength lies on the members’ ability to give Tarantella a new attitude with sounds from current dialect rap styles.

“It is my hope to impart to the younger generation to be more appreciative of their roots. Music is a very important thing, it has a power that can’t be expressed in words. The movement has been receiving great support from the public because our sound, despite being ancient, is still relevant,” relates Bennato.

Apart from being dedicated to the revival of the Tarantella, the movement Taranta Power also aims to promote the form as a means of communication, a typical Italian artistic way that naturally represents its origins and culture all over the world.

In recent times Taranta Power has been attracting increasing interest and support, and at the same time, workshops and courses in dance and musical techniques wedded to the aesthetic values and ideals of the Taranta have been set up in Italy and other parts of the world. There are already Tarantella schools in Melbourne and Bologna, and others are about to open.

Taranta Power staged a one-day performance on June 2 at the Fashion Walk in Greenbelt 5, Makati City. The musical extravaganza coincided with the celebration of the Italian National Day. Prior to the concert, Bennato conducted a free lecture-demonstration on Italian folk music and dance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Little Theater.

Italian group Taranta Power in a photo op with the Manila press. Image by Jude Bautista.

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