HILO » If there was only one word to describe the group kahiko competition at the 52nd Merrie Monarch Festival on Friday night, it would be impressive.
The oli, the choreography and procession of dancers that took to the stage to celebrate their ali’i and akua affirmed that hula is not only alive and well, but will continue on into the future.
A total of 28 groups –10 kane and 18 wahine — brought the best of ancient-style hula to Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium.
It was a reunion of sorts, with the return of kumu Robert Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei O Lililehua, which only competes once every 10 years. Moana’s Hula Halau from Molokai, under the direction of kumu Raquel Dudoit and Valerie Dudoit-Temahaga, also returned after an 11-year hiatus.
Hula’s athleticism was evident in many of the moves that halau pulled off Friday night, including more moves in aiha’a (down low, with bent-knees), back bends and back rolls.
Many performances stood out, including Cazimero’s dancers, who sang in harmony while transitioning seamlessly into numerous formations on stage to tell the story of a festive kilu tournament in Nuuanu.
Kumu Mapuana de Silva’s Halau Mohala ‘Ilima performed a beautiful hula noho (seated hula), “Ha’ena,” a mele of love for the dancing ancestors, wearing blue pa’u skirts resembling the sea of Puna.
The ladies of Hula Halau ‘O Kamuela, dressed in fiery red, brought Pele to center stage once again as they told the story of how she made Kilauea her home with ipu heke (double-headed gourds), also for a hula noho.
As usual, kumu Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu’s Academy of Hawaiian Arts from Oakland, Calif., proved popular with the audience as his men performed “Halekauila,” centered on the political battle between Queen Emalani Rooke and King David Kalakaua.
They used kala’au sticks to keep time to Ho’omalu’s signature, off-beat rhythms in a dynamic choreography that resulted in screams and a stampede of applause.
Instead of the usual feminine grace, kumu Napua Greig’s dancers from Maui entered stage this time, ready to do battle. They gave a spirited performance of “E Manono,” paying homage to the woman known to fight alongside her husband.
They unfurled mats of uluhe fern, and in noho, performed a “Pa’i-umauma,” or chest-beating hula.
The bar was set high, and remained so until the competition’s conclusion close to midnight.
Last year’s overall winner, Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La, capped of the night with a memorable pahu hula, “He Inoa No Keopuolani,” honoring Kamehameha’s most sacred wife.
When kahiko night was done, the audience streamed out of the stadium into pouring rain, perhaps as a sign of future growth and creativity to come.
On Thursday night, 11 solo dancers vied for the title of Miss Aloha Hula, which went to Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap of Hula Halau ‘O Kamuela. Following Friday night’s group kahiko, the festival continues with the group ‘auana competition Saturday night and announcement of winners and awards.