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Tarraco Viva – Bacchanalia, the return of Bacchus

A woman is let blindfolded on a stage lit by heavy candles where a secret ritual takes places,  dismembered piece of a sheep are offered to the gods and satyrs arrive leaping in the air accompanied by musicians and dancing maids.

This is the Bacchanalia, the return of Bacchus, a superb one hour investigation into the mystery of initiation into this ancient cult by the group Nemesis ARQ for Tarraco Viva.

It is staged inside the Celler Cooperatiu de Falset, the  fabulous modernista wine cellar designed by Cèsar Martinell, which feels like a large cave, with damp cold walls and the air filled with the whiff or wine held  inside  a hundred barrels.

Before the start of this historical recreation the public is invited to forget who they are and open its mind;  the  transcendental elements  escape the boundary of secrecy, spilling over like ripe wine  from an open cask and splashing the walls. The  ghosts have come to live and this is no longer a stage but has become a sensual mythological beast which leads us deep in the mystery of ecstasy and freedom.

But the Bacchanalia is not an orgy and the elements commonly associated with it,  excessive drunkenness and voracity,  play no part in this.

This complete historical immersion, and the best I have seen at the festival so far illustrates a Bacchanalia based on elements of the Greek Dionysia which then later become intertwined with the cult of Liber, the god of wine, fertility and freedom during Roman times.

According to Livy, who provides early accounts of the cult, it had a large  female audience and was also followed but many of  the underclass. Its key elements were therefore seen as a threat and the establishment was quick to act suppressing most of it,  persecuting its members,  reforming and sanitising what was left.

The Bacchanalia somehow survived secretly for a time  in southern Italy and then fizzed away but not entirely. The Renaissance resurrected the romantic approach to the myth without understanding its connotations of uninhibited freedom.

We had a glimpse of it last night and it left one yearning for the thought  that everything  was possible.

For more information about the festival, see


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