The Ho’ike night started very early for fans. One auntie was introduced as having set up camp at 4:30 a.m. Tickets were free but everyone wants a front-row seat. First come, first served is the rule. Some have tickets for the entire festival, others only go the one night.
The security is firm but friendly, as always with the KOA team. George Silva stopped us to check our tags and said he hears the wildest reasons to get in “for just a minute.” Like what, I asked? “OK, this lady said she really needed or wanted to get into the back. She said that Luana Kawelu, the boss, was her brother’s sister’s cousin’s friend. So I just smiled and said no.”
What a night! Coming in the halau gate one kumu was asking about the dressing area. She said, “We have an army.” That sounded excessive until we watched group after group bring 100, 115 and, for the final performance of ‘Ilima Hula Studio & Family, Lani-Girl Kaleiki-AhLo’s combined halau members, the amazing presentation by 200 dancers!
What brought down the house was Te Waka Huia, led by Tapeta & Annette Wehi from New Zealand. Every face and body was tattooed. When the dancers entered it was easy to imagine how these warriors won wars simply by being warriors.
Sitting by the ramp toward the back of the stage allowed a view of some of the most amazing technical dance formations. These Maori dancers, men and women, are champions many times over, around the world.
While they dance, capes, spears, carved dance implements are quickly and smoothly passed behind their backs to another waiting dancer. The music moves to sweet guitars, also passed between dancers. It was somewhere between a Carnegie Hall New York extravaganza and being in Auckland a century ago.
Tonight brings all hula. But first, craft fair time.
Lynn Cook is a freelance arts and cultural writer who has studied hula for 25 years.