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It was Greek to everyone at Central Public Library

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Greek culture seemed anything but dead March 4 when the dance group, "Guardians of Hellenism," offered a free performance at the Central Library on Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica.

The audience was treated to lively dance and music, learned about the origins of modern Greek culture, and was included in the performers' celebration of ancestral tradition.

The recital began with an overview of Greek entertainment. Joanna Markou and Petros Faurniotis, the artistic directors of this cultural society, explained how they train dancers in an Astoria studio, but travel with their group throughout the tri-state area. They organize these free performances in "an attempt to promote and preserve the heritage and keep tradition alive," as the literature puts it.

The dances, arranged into two segments, were accompanied by short descriptions of origin and cultural significance. The first group of dancers was six girls, whose costumes were replicas of those once worn by the women of Macedonia. Draped in the traditional garb of embroidered dresses and golden black cloaks, the performers entered the stage in darkness, cupping small flames in their hands.

In this dance, called "Fire," the girls created a steady illumination of lights through synchronized hand movements and rotations. When the girls blew out the flames, the stage lights came on, and their spirits were uplifted. With spurts of fast-paced music, their feet flew in lines of three while their skirts swung to the rhythmic beats.

They also enticed imaginary suitors in an "Engagement Dance" - the girls would link arms and encourage young men to join in the courting ritual.

In another dance, the performers rotated their wrists to display their palms. Repeating this motion was a sign of wealth, for it was a common way for the Macedonian women to present their jewelry. The title of the dance, "Eleven," symbolized the period when the Greeks were under Turkish occupation. They would lift their spirits with lively footwork as 11 o'clock, their time of curfew, approached.

The second routine featured eight dancers, all donning costumes from different regions of the Greek empire. One was cloaked in a replica of the official wedding garb; another balanced a Macedonian circlet; and a third stood tall in a golden headdress dating to the lavish years of the Greeks in Asia Minor. One of the males wore a suede, burgundy vest of Cyprus, and an Ionian woman was adorned with flowers blooming through her hair.

Faurniotis, one of the program's organizers, headlined this group. He led them in call-and-response, and added to the celebration with occasional outbursts in Greek. His momentary solos were impressive, as were those of the other performers.

The Guardians of Hellenism did not simply dance. They intrigued the audience with interesting history and background, and helped them to understand the joys of tradition and custom.

They are dedicated to invigorating their ancient heritage with young blood, and to making what was ritual to their ancestors, sacred to their descendants.

Reach Qguide writer Ilana Zimmerman by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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