Bacchanalia! Revel like a true Greek

Opera To Go presents a festive evening of food, drink, theater and music

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thousands of years ago, during the time of the toga, the ancient people of Greece and Rome would gather in groves and celebrate, often for days on end. Their reasons for partying varied, but throughout the past few thousand years of human adaptation, we have still retained the ability to make time for carousal all throughout the year, whether we have a good excuse or not.

In continuation of the tradition, Opera to Go presents "Bacchanalia!" this Saturday at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center.

The social event is a fundraiser for Opera to Go, and will make an effort to mimic the original celebratory rituals as much as is reasonable.

"It's not going to be like the original drunken debauchery, but more light and social," said Wade Rogers, who is producing the event. "We're trying to get people exposed to Grecian culture."

The original Bacchanalia players were all women who got together in secret to celebrate the Greek god Dionysus - also called Bacchus by the Romans - god of the vine and ritual madness. Eventually, the invitation was extended to the men as well. During these get-togethers, there were copious amounts of wine and food, dancing, theatrical performances, and fertility rites designed to ensure the success of the upcoming planting and harvesting season.

Fertility was also emphasized during the early stages of the tradition. Originally, Bacchanalia were held in the spring in an effort to please Bacchus and to ensure the success of the grape crops for that season. After all, without grapes there would be no wine for the following year's festival.

The evening will arouse several of the senses, with offerings including a wide range of food and drink, musical and theatrical performances and participatory entertainment.

"It's sort of our way of saying thank you for helping us in the last several years that we've been in existence," Rogers said. He has also emceed and produced other similar events in cities around the country.

The Silverbow will be providing edibles of the Mediterranean flavor, including delectable dishes such as hummus platters, spanakopita, lamb kebobs, roasted vegetables and baklava to top it all off.

Beer and wine will be served at a no-host bar.

As dance was a very important part of the original festival, the Daughters of the New Moon will perform traditional Middle Eastern dances.

Other acts include the magic of Jeff Brown, the Dale Wygant Polka Band, pianists Doug Smith and Tom Locher, Todd Hunt on saxophone, and duet Brett and Cheryl Crawford.

Seating will be in the Greek amphitheater style, with tables set up in an arc around a central performance area.

The stage won't be the only place for entertainment, however. Throughout the night, there will also be other opportunities to mix and mingle.

"It's unlike anything we've done," Rogers said. "Usually things are done in a theatrical setting, on the stage. This is going to be very interactive where people will be able to see the acts around their table, on the stage, in the hall, and be able to walk around while the acts are ongoing."

Several downtown hotels are providing discounted rates on sleeping quarters for the night. Participants include the Baranof, Goldbelt and Prospector, all within stumbling distance of the culture center. Room prices can be found on the Opera to Go Web site at

Dress is dressy casual, and though togas aren't required, they are certainly optional.

"We're kind of going with an international theme," Rogers said. "So, if you want to wear your lederhosen and suspenders, you'll fit right in."

• Libby Sterling can be reached at

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