NEW YORK – Hellenic Roots presented Gaia, Age-old Rituals that Stem from Honoring Mother Earth at the Queens Theater on June 9. The theater was crowded with family members and friends as over 250 young people performed traditional dances from various regions of Greece. The dance groups from Astoria, Kimisis tis Theotokou Brooklyn, Plainview, Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan, and Whitestone displayed their skills for the enthusiastic audience.
Dances from Serres, Crete, Kefalonia, Epirus, Florina, Pontos, Cappadocia, Arachova, Thrace, and Nisyros were performed and delighted all those in attendance. The youngest dancers were, of course, especially charming. All the performers danced in beautiful traditional costumes made by Maria Fourniotis, the mother of Hellenic Roots Executive Director and Founder Petro Fourniotis, who directed and choreographed the production. He also wrote the text of the show with Georgia Kopani who narrated the show in Greek.
The narration for each region and its dances offered fascinating insights into the dances and Greek culture and highlighted the connections between ancient rituals, Christianity, the land and traditions that continue on into the present day. In Crete, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14 is connected to the pre-Christian celebration of trees, the priest blesses the Kofina apples which are taken home and eaten for therapeutic purposes. The ritual goes back to Minoan times. The young performers enacted the ritual with one youngster clad in branches.
Olive trees are the most sacred throughout Greece going back through the millennia, connected to the goddess Athena and the god of the sea Poseidon, and are related to justice and honor. Glorified by the ancient poets, olive trees became a symbol of peace and victory, associated with the Olympic Games. Poets, ancient and modern have written about the olive tree, and in some regions of Greece, the birth of a child is marked with the planting of an olive tree. Kopani also noted the poet Odysseus Elytis’ quote that with an olive tree, a vine, and a boat you can rebuild Greece. In Kefalonia, the Eliatika songs sung during the harvest of the olives in November, were never recorded, until Fourniotis 25 years ago made the effort to preserve the songs some of which had never been heard for 60 years. The young performers sang and danced to the song, keeping the tradition alive for the new generation.
The dances from Pontos and Cappadocia related to weddings were poignant, celebrating the new beginnings but also reflecting the emotions a mother feels, losing her daughter to her new life. The dances from Thrace were especially energetic, and all the dancers impressed the audience with their skills.
At the conclusion of the performance with all the dancers assembled on stage after taking their bows, Fourniotis addressed the audience, thanking all those in attendance and all those involved in the production. He said, “I think we have outgrown this venue, I think we need a larger space next year,” to which someone in the audience called out “the Javits Center.” Fourniotis gave special thanks to his mother, Maria, noting the extraordinary work she did in making all the costumes. He also noted that Hellenic Roots is growing, starting with the creation of an Executive Board for the non-profit organization. Fourniotis then introduced the first official Executive Board member, Nick Gregory, the well-known Fox5 New York meteorologist who congratulated Fourniotis and all those “who worked so hard to put on what was really an amazing performance.”
Gregory continued, “I’m very pleased to be a part of Hellenic Roots, to be a part of the Executive Board for a few reasons, one, because I’m proud of my own Hellenic Roots and what we see here is what is needed to keep those roots entrenched and to keep the foundation growing because without this it is not going to continue and your efforts, your hard work is seen in the bright performance from these fantastic dancers and again I think it’s inspiring for them but it’s also inspiring for all of us to really commit to sharing our culture, making people aware of our culture, and there’s no better way to do that except through the youth of our community. Congratulations! Again I’m very happy and proud to be a part of the Hellenic Roots organization and I look forward to helping you grow it to the next level. Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, here we come!”
The mission of the Hellenic Roots Foundation is to preserve, promote, and perpetuate Hellenic culture and heritage in New York City through various artistic productions, re-enactments of traditions and rituals, the fabrication and preservation of traditional Hellenic garb, the study of traditional Hellenic instruments, dance, music and song, the study of Hellenic history, language and culture, educational workshops and seminars, and other social functions.
The goal is to educate Hellenes and Philhellenes alike on Hellenic ideals set forth from antiquity till the present day that have played a major role in the development of the world we live in. This knowledge will enrich the lives of people from all walks of life, and benefit young and old by continuing to insure that Hellenic heritage and culture remain alive as a thread in the diverse ethnic tapestry that is New York City.
More information about Hellenic Roots is available online at: www.hellenicroots.org.