Festival pioneers retake the stage

By Nina Wu on April 4, 2013

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HILO » The Merrie Monarch Festival’s Hoike exhibition at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium Wednesday night was a joyful walk down memory lane.

It was also a night to remember.

Original dancers from the Hau‘oli Hula Maidens, who won the overall title in the festival’s first hula competition in 1971, graced the stage once again. Still agile and graceful, they performed “Akala‘i Au i Kahiau,” a chant that the late kumu hula Victoria I‘i Rodrigues turned into a song and choreographed for auana, or modern-style hula.

They hammed it up on stage, having fun, even flirting at times, to a standing ovation.

The Hoike, traditionally offered the day before the hula competition begins, has been a perennial mainstay of the festival. It’s the one evening that Hilo residents and visitors alike flock to the competition site for a lineup of stellar performances.

This year, the festival’s 50th, the celebration had a special resonance as the stage was turned over to winners from the early days of the festival.

Even fans who had tickets lined up early in the morning for the best seats. Many had traveled from far and wide.

“It’s so special, so nostalgic,” said Carol Morita of San Francisco. “This is a gift.”

The festival’s first Miss Aloha Hula — Aloha Dalire — danced her winning solo from 1971, “Ka Makani Ka‘ili Aloha.” Then the stage was filled with talent, as Miss Aloha Hulas from the past five decades got up to join her.

The impressive list of halau that performed included Halau o Kekuhi, representing eight generations of the Kanaka‘ole legacy — the ladies of kumu hula Leina‘ala Kalama Heine’s Na Pualei O Likolehua.

The ladies of the ‘Ilima Hula Studio and ‘Ilima Sweethearts, a winning halau in the 1970s, performed in honor of the late Louise Kaleiki, mother of kumu hula Lani Girl Kaleiki-AhLo, who continues her legacy today. They danced “He U‘i” as well as “‘Ilima Sweetheart Medley” and “Na Pua Lei ‘Ilima,” in honor of musicians from the old-fashioned “chalang­alang” period of Hawaiian music.

The pioneering men of hula were as much of a hit as they were in 1976, when kane first entered the festival’s hula competition.

Robert Cazimero brought an impressive entourage of about 50 of his men — past and present — to perform a new repertoire of songs, eliciting cheers and screams from the audience.

The men danced “Lamalama ‘o Mamala i ka Pa Konane,” a kahiko by Cazimero’s student, kumu hula Manu Boyd, that tells the tale of a shark. They also performed “Pohuehue,” one of the first kahiko that Cazimero taught the halau.

They paid tribute to King Kalakaua — the Merrie Monarch — and to Cazimero’s kumu, Maiki Aiu Lake, with the classic “La ‘Oe E Ka La.” Lake would always say, “Hula is the art of Hawaiian dance expressing everything we hear, see, smell, taste, touch and feel,” Cazimero said.

They finished by singing a beautiful rendition of “Waika,” the halau’s signature song, and drew a standing ovation.

The spirit of late kumu hula Darrell Lupenui was in the stadium, as the Men of Waimapuna displayed the athleticism and prowess of Lupenui’s warrior-like style to whoops and cheers. They performed their numbers from 1978, their first competition.

In a showing of symbolic unity, dancers from Na Wai Eha ‘O Puna, once led by the late Thaddius Wilson and O’Brian Eselu, joined dancers from Waimapuna as one halau for the evening. The Ladies of Ke‘ala ‘O Ka Laua‘e of Lupenui also joined the men on stage to dance a classic, “Waikoloa.”

Their dances were a tribute to the late John Kaimikaua, Lupenui, Wilson and Eselu.

The festival continues with the solo Miss Aloha Hula competition this evening, followed by kahiko (ancient-style) group competition on Friday, and auana (modern-style) group competition and awards presentations on Saturday.