Bring your dancing shoes to Annunciation's Greek Festival

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Although Koula Rougos shares the co-chairmanship of the Cranston Greek Festival’s popular Pastry Shoppe, her pride and joy – people of all ages will tell you – is the Church of the Annunciation’s highly-acclaimed Odyssey Dance Troupe.

Rougos, in fact, is steeped with as much history in the Troupe as she is with recipes for the 40,000-plus pieces of pastry that will be sold this weekend during the 32nd annual 3-day food and fun fest that will open Friday at the Greek Orthodox parish at 5 p.m. and run through Sunday evening.

The Troupe began in 1984 with eight children and under the direction of Rougos. A Greek immigrant, who also serves as Annunciation’s afternoon Greek Language School, has grown to its current membership of 90 volunteer dancers.

“I wanted to teach the Greek culture to children in the community,” Rougos offered. “We have one goal; to promote the Greek culture and heritage across the state through the art of traditional dance.”

This weekend during the 32nd Annual Cranston Greek Festival, the Troupe, which is also co-directed by Rougos’ son Dr. Steven Rougos, will put on five performances beginning with Friday’s 7 p.m. performance on the tent-filled grounds located at 175 Oaklawn Ave.

Rougos’ dances will also be featured in four other prolific performances, dressed in traditional garb that includes over 100 outfits that represent 15 unique styles from villages across Greece.

“All of our outfits were either handmade by members of the church community or purchased directly from Greece,” Dr. Rougos said with a smile after a recent three-hour Troupe practice. “We all take tremendous pride in these special outfits.”

The same holds true for the Troupe’s members, who range in age from six and up and represent 19 cities and town across Rhode Island.

Over the last 33 years, the Troupe has learned and performed over 120 different traditional dances from all regions of Greece.

More impressively, perhaps, is that the Troupe, which will perform for crowds expecting to run into the thousands this weekend, will have spent upwards of 80 hours practicing preparing and getting ready for the 32nd Annual 3-Day Festival.

Dr. Rougos, who also performs in Greek garb, said the final four Troupe shows are scheduled for 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Troupe also performs at various functions all over New England including culture festivals, weddings, baptisms and parades.

Perhaps the Troupe’s credo, as it goes, is a shining example of what long-time Festival chairman Theofanis “Frank” Markos calls his favorite part of the annual festival.

“I love seeing everybody working together,” Markos, who owns and operates Markos Auto Body & Sales in Providence, noted. “We’ll have over 250 volunteers presenting this three-day festival.”

Meanwhile, Jean Pliakas, wife of Festival Publicity Director Paul Plaikas, is a huge Troupe fan.

“I love the costumes,” she offered when asked about her favorite part of the three-day event. “I love seeking all the kids, teenagers and young adults doing the traditional Greek dances.”

Meanwhile, Paul Plaikas noted: “My favorite part of ht Festival is early Friday night when the lines start forming on Oaklawn Avenue around 4:30 even before we open. I love the smells of the food, the crowds, music from the (Greek) band and especially sing the Odyssey Dance Troupe perform; they’re always special.”

Co-Chairman Kevin Phelan, who serves as Council President at Annunciation Church, says his favorite part of the Festival is “being with and working with my friends during the weekend. We work hard yet find time to savor a baklava sundae or a Greek coffee together during a break and it invigorates us to say after hour and enjoy the band and dance a little longer.”

His wife Marianna Phelan, who chairs the Coffee House committee, adds: “My favorite part of the festival is seeing friends and neighbors who come every year to enjoy the food, dancing and Greek culture. This experience makes all the hard work of the preparation worthwhile.”

Then there’s the ageless Harry Bablenis, Annunciation’s Executive Chef for all reasons and seasons as Markos will tell you, who has been around for all 32 three-day festivals whose routes even go back when it was just a one or two-day picnic.

“Harry is a lot like the Dance Troupe,” Markos mused. “He works hard behind the scenes preparing our foods for the big show. He’s our leader in the kitchen just like Koula Rougos and her son are the Odyssey group; in the end, all their performances are always first rate.”

This weekend’s Festival will offer an estimated 25,000 people a wide variety of Greek foods including roast lamb, Greek style chicken, souvlaki and Rhode Island’s best Gyros. The Pastry Shoppe will be well-stocked and probably sold out and some lucky person will win the grand raffle drawing of $5,000. There will also be plenty of events for children.

Festival hours are: Friday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 2 to 9 p.m. A free shuttle service will run from the Cranston West High School parking lot right onto the Festival grounds.

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