HILO » Kumu Robert Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua made a triumphant return to the 52nd Merrie Monarch Festival, winning the overall title Saturday night 10 years after the Honolulu troupe last competed and won.
Cazimero’s halau enters the hula festival only once every decade. It captured the overall title in 2005 while sweeping the kahiko (ancient-style) and auana (modern-style) competitions in the kane division.
MERRIE MONARCH FESTIVAL 2015 RESULTS
Listed are halau, location, kumu, score:
» Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua; Honolulu; Robert Uluwehi Cazimero; 1,210
Miss Aloha Hula
This year, Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua, which has young as well as seasoned dancers, again wowed Merrie Monarch judges over two nights at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium, earning the Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy.
The halau was also clearly a crowd favorite as it performed "Ka ‘Aha Kilu Le‘ale‘a i Ka‘akopua" for its kahiko number, telling the story of festive games in Nuuanu and a sailing trip to Haena, Kauai. His men sang in harmony and displayed skill and precision in creating various formations onstage.
For auana the men, decked in plumeria lei over aloha shirts, performed "Le‘ahi," a tribute to Diamond Head that was first published in 1895 in "Buke Mele Lahui" ("Book of National Songs") as "Daimana Hila" before it evolved to the popular song it’s known as today. The dancers smiled broadly, singing along with Cazimero and obviously enjoying the hula.
Cazimero was already one of Hawaii’s best-known Hawaiian musical entertainers when he was persuaded by hula master Maiki Aiu Lake to start an all-male halau in 1975, a time when most men didn’t dance hula for fear of being perceived as effeminate.
His halau won the kane competition at Merrie Monarch the following year, the first time men had their own division.
When his halau was declared the Merrie Monarch’s overall winner Saturday, he said his thoughts immediately turned to the late "Auntie Maiki," who died in 1984.
"We lived through the teachings of a great woman, Maiki Aiu Lake. She’s responsible for me being here today," said Cazimero, 66.
Twenty-eight groups — 10 kane and 18 wahine — brought the best of hula to the famed stage Friday and Saturday nights, following Thursday night’s Miss Aloha Hula event.
Besides two groups from California and 16 from Oahu, there were halau from Hawaii island, Kauai, Maui and Molokai.
The wahine overall title was won by Oahu’s Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela, under kumu hula Kau‘ionalani Kamana‘o and Kunewa Mook.
Another wahine group, Moana’s Hula Halau of Kaunakakai, Molokai, led by kumu Raquel Dudoit and Valerie Dudoit-Temahaga, had returned to compete for the first time since 2004.
Their niece Noelani Dudoit, who lives on Oahu, competed as a soloist for Kaneohe-based Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha‘eha‘e and was second runner-up, a major accomplishment for the 25-year-old, given that she was critically injured in an automobile accident in 2013.
The hula performances on group kahiko night, Friday, were particularly outstanding, with numerous halau demonstrating mastery of oli (chant), interpretation of songs, unity and precision in hand and foot movements.
The kane groups demonstrated a high level of athleticism and creativity in choreography, particularly with the use of implements.
Saturday night’s group auana competition celebrated love in all its forms: love for the beautiful places of Hawaii, from Diamond Head to Kawaihae, as well as romantic love, with the emotion compared to Hilo’s soft Kanilehua rain, the intertwining of lei and an iiwi bird drawn to a flower.
The power of Pele, her sister Hiiaka and friend Hopoe were the inspiration this year for Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela.
The halau’s soloist, Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap, won the Miss Aloha Hula crown Thursday night with the highest score out of 11 dancers who competed.
The following night, Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela’s 29 dancers performed a Pele-inspired kahiko incorporating ipu heke (double gourds) in their hula noho (seated hula), evoking the goddess’s power as she establishes Halemaumau as her home.
Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua won the kane auana hula and almost topped the kahiko but was bested by last year’s overall winner, kumu Kaleo Trinidad’s Ka Leo o Laka i ka Hikina o ka La, by nine points after tiebreaker scoring. Still, the high score for Halau Na Kamalei’s auana performance was good enough to lift the troupe to the overall title.<t-2>
Merrie Monarch Festival announcer Kimo Kahoano praised Cazimero, who with brother Roland comprise the award-winning Brothers Cazimero musical duo, for his dual commitment to share hula "with a quality that is unlike any other."
Kahoano also took note of the need for multiple tiebreakers.
"The scores were so tight, it just shows you the quality was way above average," he said. "So now the art is growing. We’re just very fortunate to have this festival, to have a place in Hilo people can come to and focus on hula."
This year’s judges were Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett, Vicky Holt Takamine, Nalani Kanaka‘ole, Mae Kamamalu Klein, Joan S. Lindsey, Keali‘i Reichel and Alicia Keawekane Smith.