BEAUTIFUL: Anastasia ready to dance. In the background, Michael Snr, Nicholas and Michael Jnr Penklis.
BEAUTIFUL: Anastasia ready to dance. In the background, Michael Snr, Nicholas and Michael Jnr Penklis. Jared Vethaak

Brisbane to dance the day away at its Greek Festival

EXPECT more Zorba than usual at the Paniyiri Greek Festival (May 20 and 21) as members of the Hellenic Dancers celebrate their 40th anniversary and plan to make the much loved festival bigger and better than ever.

The Hellenic Dancers are multi-generational family members of Greek Australians.

Some of them have been dancing at the festival since its inception in 1976 when it began life as the Ekthisis festival to celebrate all things Greek. The brainchild of the late George Pippos, Ekthisis featured a few static displays and some lectures - a far cry from the massive cultural celebration it has become today and known as Paniyiri Greek Festival.

The Hellenic Dancers formed as a dance group due to the success of the festival and they still perform every year, with dancers ranging from the very young to an impressive 70.

Over the past 40 years the dance group has been a shining baton for the Greek Community, performing at major events including the opening ceremony of the 1982 Commonwealth Games and 1988 World Expo.

They are the only Queensland Greek dance group to be invited to perform at the Sydney Opera House.

Senior's Newspapers spoke to some of the Hellenic Dancers' families.

The Penklis Family

Michael Penklis Snr and Esta Penklis have volunteered at Paniyiri since 1976 and have done everything from manning cash registers to assisting guests, often while their children slept under tables.

Their son, Kon Penklis, was a member of the first Hellenic Dancers Academy Group in 1977 and joined the Hellenic Dancers in 1980 aged 24.

He is now head teacher of the group. Michael and Esta's grandchildren Anastasia and Michael junior are both part of the Hellenic Dancers group.

The youngest grandchild Nicholas aged 12 is too young to join the Hellenic Dancers but volunteers at some of the festival stalls. A real family effort.

The Kalligeros Family

Manoli Kalligeros is a member of the Hellenic Dancers and father to two young boys (7 and 5), the youngest, Noni, the face of Paniyiri this year. Both Manoli and his wife have grown up in the Hellenic Dancers group and are ambassadors for Paniyiri and Greek Australia.

 

GREEK FESTIVAL: Dancers Manoli Kalligeios and sons.
GREEK FESTIVAL: Dancers Manoli Kalligeios and sons.

The Ikonomou and Sarmiento Family

Nia Ikonomou came to Brisbane with her parents when she was just seven and has been an active member of the Greek Orthodox Community of St George Ladies Auxiliary for more than 20 years. The women of the Ladies Auxiliary spend weeks planning the festival and each cook their favourite Greek biscuit or dessert. One of their specialities is the ever popular Loukoumathes, honey puffs. Nia's daughter, Venny joined the Hellenic Dancers when she was 17. While Venny's youngest, Sophie, is too young to perform yet, Alexander (9) and Stella (8) will perform traditional Greek dances.

The Vafias and Ganiatsos Family

Helen Vafias, was one of the original Hellenic Dancer committee members in 1977, and part of the small group who looked after the traditional costumes.

Helen set up and facilitated the Hellenic Dancers Academy classes and helped to raise funds to source new costumes. In 1997 she took on the role of Costume Mistress and now sources all costumes from Greece.

Helen's daughter, Benetta Ganiatsos, joined the Hellenic Dancers at age 14, where at the time she was the youngest group member.

Benetta's love for dance has never wavered, even performing through her pregnancies. Her children, Pascali and Eleana have lived and breathed Paniyiri since they were born, in prams and porta cots surrounded by family and friends.

In 2016, Pascali made his debut on the Paniyiri stage as Herc Junior - one of the official Paniyiri mascots - and this year will return to the stage and perform alongside those in Grade One at Greek School.

ABOUT THE PANIYIRI GREEK FESTIVAL:

Everyone who loves a good time involving food, wine, song and dance has the third weekend in May firmly in their diaries for the Paniyiri Greek Festival.

This year's highlights include the Greek Village Experience, further development of the acclaimed cooking program starring the flavours and faces of Greece, as well as a line up of authors, chefs, speakers and home cooks.

Over four decades Paniyiri has grown to become Queensland's signature celebration of all things Greek and the state's largest cultural festival as well as the country's longest running Greek festival.

Since its inception almost two million people have devoured more than five million honey puffs, rivers of thick sweet coffees, four million souvlaki, 25 tonnes of haloumi and countless calamari and dolmades.

Only Zeus knows how many high kicks have been performed.

Paniyiri is a community initiative of the 25,000-strong Greek community of South East Queensland. 

Funds raised are channelled back into the community via the Greek Orthodox Community of St George, Brisbane.

Gold Logie- nominated Ada Nicodemou who plays Leah Patterson-Baker in Home and Away will take part in a range of Paniyiri Greek Festival activities including Greek dancing with the stars and the popular cooking program as well as honey puff and live competitions, grape stomping, plate smashing, main stage Q&As and more.

Date: Saturday May 20 from midday and Sunday May 21 from 10am.

Location: Musgrave Park and The Greek Club, Edmondstone St, South Brisbane.

Info: www.paniyiri.com or 3844 1166.

Tickets: $12 Adults (13+), $5 all Pensioners and children free.


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