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Entertainment Highlights: It’s Got Tradition, And You Can Dance to It; Group Brings Italy’s Pizzica Tarantala Music to the Hop

Pizzica tarantala, the frenetic, danceable music that originated in Italy’s Salento region centuries ago, has long outgrown its original purpose of curing victims of spider bites.

Twenty-first century groups like Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, which performs Wednesday night at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College, are adhering to the traditional pizzica elements of fast-paced tempos and rhythms, while putting modern touches on the style.

“This is music that comes from the past, that is very strong. … It is an enjoyable music, because you can dance and have fun with it,” Mauro Durante, the leader of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, said this week in a phone interview from Lecce, the city in Italy’s boot heel where the band is based.

Durante, who plays the violin and the tamburello, a frame drum that is common in pizzica music, is now the second generation in his family to lead Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, a group his father Daniele Durante founded in 1975. The pizzica sound comes from a unique marriage of many instruments, some familiar, like the violin and the accordion, and others, such as the bouzouki and tamburieddhu, that aren’t often heard in the U.S. but are common in Mediterranean forms of music.

Pizzica music is highly energetic for a purpose: during the Renaissance era, it was believed to help those who had fallen ill from tarantula bites. “Originally, there was a belief that when you got bitten by a spider ... you fell down in a state of disease and illness, and the only way to cure yourself and feel good again was to dance for hours and hours, days, and exercise,” Durante said. Over four decades, the band has performed these uptempo numbers along with traditional, slower-paced melodies. That tradition has continued under the younger Durante, who has also composed new pieces for the group. These original compositions often deal with the difficult economic realities faced by many young Italians, and have been key in helping Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino put its own stamp on traditional Italian music.

“Even if our band is 38 years old, we are young people that live our own lives,” he said. “When we go to perform this kind of music, we do with it with our own sensibilities. “When we write our own lyrics, we describe what we live every day,” Durante added. “And we truly believe that it’s important not to think about this music as something that simply comes from the past, like a postcard, or something that is stuck in a museum, but we come to renew it, in order that it stays alive, because traditional music needs to remain connected to the reality of everyday life.”

Stateside audiences first had a chance to hear Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino in the band’s first North American tour two years ago. In 2012, they performed at the annual Globalfest world music concert in New York City, in what the New York Times described as a “whirlwind” performance.

Now that they’ve returned to the U.S., Durante said the group is even more determined to make a name for itself on this side of the Atlantic. In addition to their Hopkins Center show, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino’s tour will also take them to New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. Next month, the group will perform for the first time at the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas.

The decision to try to build an audience in the U.S. “was a big bet,” Durante said. “We have put a lot of energy and commitment in order to make it real. … This dream became a reality. We are pretty proud of that.”

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino performs at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover ($17-$19). Check out samples of the group’s music at www.canzonieregrecanicosalentino.net.

Best Bets

Actor and Stowe, Vt., native Rusty Dewees has logged many miles bringing his show The Logger, which he calls Blue Collar Comedy meets Prairie Home Companion, to audiences across New England, making them laugh “til their backs get better.” Dewees makes his next stop at the Claremont Opera House tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m. ($23, advance; $25, day of show).

∎ Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction will host legendary British blues guitarist John Mayall tomorrow at 7 p.m. In more than five decades of performing with his band the Bluesbreakers, Mayall has played with everyone from Eric Clapton to Mick Fleetwood to Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, and in 2005 was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire ($45).

∎ The Gully Boys, featuring Pete Meijer and Bill Temple, play their own brand of bluesy, funky rock tunes in this month’s Tunbridge Shindig concert, starting at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Tunbridge Town Hall ($8, tickets available at www.shindigsvt.com/tickets).

∎ Another Italian group will stop in for a show at the Hopkins Center this week. Concertos from Vivaldi, Veracini and Geminiani are part of the Venice Baroque Orchestra’s program for their concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Hop. Led by conductor Andrea Marcon, the VBO, which performs works from 17th and 18th century composers, returns to the Hop after performing there in 2009 ($17-$40).

First Friday

Music can be found in just about every corner of White River Junction on the first Friday night of the month, and you can find performers like Sweetgrass, Juliana Nicole and Larry and Gina Revit playing everywhere tomorrow from the Tip Top Building to the Tuckerbox Cafe.

Dance

Barrett Hall in South Strafford will be the site of a Midwinter Dance Party on Saturday, starting at 6:30 p.m. and featuring dance and rock music Rockit Science and Wool, two new Upper Valley bands ($10 or donation; proceeds benefit Willing Hands).

Looking Ahead

Sixty-five dancers from the world-renowned State Ballet Theatre of Russia will perform Sergei Profokiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, with choreography from Mikhail Lavrovsky, on Feb. 8 and 9 at the Lebanon Opera House. Founded in the central Russian city of Voronezh in 1961, the State Ballet Theatre performs both modern and classical ballet pieces for audiences around the world ($35-$55).

∎ Northern Stage returns from its January recess with a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Directed by Carol Dunne, the artistic director of the New London Barn Playhouse, and starring Northern Stage Producing Director Catherine Doherty as Lady Bracknell, Earnest opens with preview performances Feb. 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m. Opening night is Feb. 8, and the show continues through Feb. 24. Visit www.northernstage.org for more information and ticket prices.

On Stage

Speed-the-Plow, David Mamet’s play about Hollywood power politics, concludes its run this weekend at Enfield’s Shaker Bridge Theatre. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Whitney Hall Auditorium ($25, adults; $20, students).

Folk Music

Acoustic group Isla performs folk music from the British Isles in tomorrow night’s edition of the Sunapee Community Coffeehouse, starting at 7 in the basement of the Sunapee Methodist Church. A hat will be passed for the performers.

Jazz

Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland hosts the Peter Concilio Jazz Trio at 9 p.m. tomorrow.

Bar and Club Circuit

Jason Cann is at Harpoon Brewery in Windsor at 6 tonight and at Bistro Nouveau in Grantham on Saturday.

∎ Chris Kleeman performs at Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock at 9 tonight.

∎ The Amorphous Band plays funky, jazzy tunes at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon tomorrow at 9 p.m. Saturday night, the soul/R&B group Frydaddy comes to the pub for a 9 o’clock show. And at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the pub has live traditional Irish music sessions.

∎ Salt hill Pub in Newport kicks off February with shows from The Conniption Fits tomorrow and bluesman Arthur James Saturday; both shows start at 9 p.m.

∎ Acoustic Truffle comes to Salt hill Pub in Hanover for a show at 9 p.m. tomorrow. On Saturday, the pub hosts the dance trio Still More Cats at 9 p.m.

∎ Randy White entertains diners at Jesse’s Restaurant in Hanover tomorrow at 6 p.m.

∎  Jester Jiggs is at Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon tomorrow night at 9.

∎ Shepard’s Pie on Route 4 in Quechee has guitarist Tom Pirozzoli at 7 p.m. Saturday.

∎ JukeJoynt performs at The Common Man Restaurant in Claremont at 5 p.m. Sunday.

∎ These musicians will perform at Canoe Club in Hanover: tonight, pianist Bob Lucier; tomorrow, the Billy Rosen and Steve Ellis jazz duo, in a special afternoon performance from noon to 2 p.m.; Saturday, pianist Gillian Joy; Sunday, guitarist Tom Pirozzoli; Tuesday, pianist Keith Bush; and Wednesday, Billy Rosen and David Newsam.

Open Mics, Jams

Every fourth Friday is open mic night at the Sunapee Community Coffeehouse, starting at 7 in the basement of the Sunapee Methodist Church.

∎  Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock has an open mic led by Brian Warren on Monday nights.

∎  Chad Gibbs hosts the Monday night open mic at Salt hill Pub in Hanover, starting at 7:30.

∎  Shepard’s Pie Restaurant on Route 4 in Quechee is the site of a Tuesday night open mic, starting at 6.

∎  The Colatina Exit in Bradford has an open mic on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

∎  There’s an open jam every Tuesday night from 7 to 9 at Tuck’s Rock Dojo in Etna.

∎  Wednesday night is open mic night at Skunk Hollow Tavern. It’s led by Gregory Brown and starts at 8:30.

∎  Anthony Furnari hosts an open mic at Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Entertainment Highlights appears each Thursday. Email news of upcoming events to kbryan@vnews.com.