Oakleigh swaps Year of the Rabbit for goat-skinned Pourpouri and camels

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Photos and report by Mary Sinanidis

While a large portion of Australians were celebrating the Lunar New Year marking the start of the Year of the Rabbit, dancers of the Manasis School of Greek Dance and Culture were draped in animal skins and ringing bells at Eaton Mall in Oakleigh, Victoria on Sunday.

Onlookers cheered and joined in the dance reviving dodekaimero (12-day Dodecameron between Christmas and Epiphany) and Apokries (carnival) customs from all around Greece. Sunday’s performance was just the start of more to come ahead of Apokries (Sunday, February 5) and the lead-up to Lent (beginning on February 27).

The Thracian Christmas custom of Pourpouris, performed for the first time in Australia, offered outdoor diners a spectacle with a goat-skin covered groom and his rival vying for the attention of a masculine bride.

“What’s this?” bemused onlookers wondered, some googling Pourpouris and others, seeing the veils, whispered. “Is this a Greek tradition? It seems Turkish?”

Dimosthenis Manasis, who heads Manasis School of Greek Dance and Culture told The Greek Herald that there are many shared Balkan traditions and it is great for people to see that dressing in animal skins is also prevalent in Northern Greece.

Chris Kasimis played the burly Pourpouris wearing a costume of real goats’ hair, fake beard and bells sourced from Greece.

“It’s hot and sweaty,” he told The Greek Herald. “It’s good learning my heritage and it is awesome dressing up and having a good time with the locals.”

Asked if he would do it again, he said, “Maybe. It’s really hot though.”

Yiannis Pappas, the bride stealer, joined the Manasis troupe at the end of 2015 and has performed dodecameron/Apokries traditions before.

“It’s our first performance of the year. I had nothing else to do on a Sunday. It’s a beautiful day to be out here and we love our culture,” he said. “It’s important to keep our traditions alive.”

Later he ditched his Pourpouris costume for Kamila (camel) and Divitzi, a New Year’s Eve tradition where a camel and Divitzi would go door-to-door collecting money from villagers followed by revelry at the main square.

Mr Manasis said these festive traditions have been revived by the school since 1979 when his father established the troupe.

“It’s important for the dancers to experience all types of performances from formal presentations to communal dances like this which are hard to do due to the crowds surrounding us,” he said, adding that community engagement with bystanders jumping in and dancing with the troupe is not just satisfying but important if we are to keep our traditions alive.

“Just before lockdown we had 150 participants, but now we decided to have less dancers but more events. We’ve downsized but have upskilled.”

Mr Manasis said each week in Oakleigh will bring different traditions from other parts of Greece from karagouna to rougatsaria, koudounoforoi and maskarades and more carnival capers as Apokries officially begin on Sunday, February 5.

Re-enactments are accompanied by live music, another important component in the performances.

“We rehearse to pre-recorded music, however a lot of our dancers are also self-taught musicians,” he said.

Then there is the Greek language element.

“I teach in Greek and English, trying to get in as much exposure to Greek language as possible,” Mr Manasis said, adding that he knows that many Greek schools have lost students during COVID resulting in loss of language.

“I worked for many years with Greek schools where I taught dance and I know how difficult it is to keep Greek language alive.”

Dance, however, is another matter.

Upcoming events:

Future re-enactments of Dodecameron and Apokries traditions take place at Eaton Mall in Oakleigh on Sunday 29 January, Saturday 4 February, Sunday 12 February, Sunday 19 February, Saturday 25 February and Sunday 29 February.

On Sunday 5 February, the official start of the 2023 Apokries (carnival) season, there will be 150 performers at Rye foreshore for the annual Australia Day picnic held by the Federation of Greek Elderly Citizens Clubs of Melbourne and Victoria.

On Sunday 12 February, dancers will be performing for the Hellenic Community of the City of Moorabbin from noon to 5pm with a procession at 4pm.

The Manasis troupe will also be at the Antipodes Festival on Lonsdale Street on Saturday and Sunday, 25-26 February (a day before Clean Monday on 27 February).

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