Anticipation. If there is one word that could describe Hilo and the Merrie Monarch Festival, that might be it: anticipation.
Kumu and their dancers have a private, assigned time for on-stage rehearsals and contemplation of what they are about to present. That might be anticipation laced with a moment of terror. Costumes, lei, adornments are checked and checked again to be sure of perfection. Hundreds of dancers and thousands of fans, worldwide, are counting the hours until the stadium lights are on, the seats filled and the television cameras zoom in as the 2013 Merrie Monarch Royal Court procession crosses the stadium stage to take their seats for the Olympics of hula. The lucky 4,000-plus folks who have tickets are happy to sit for hours on a metal chair or bleacher seat, just being there!
What we don’t see, unless we are among the lucky few thousand folks with a ticket to Hilo, are the amazing artisans at the Merrie Monarch Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium and Butler Building, the Hula Preservation Society presentations at the ‘Imiloa Center, the hula halau who perform at the hotel lobbies and lawns and the crafters who work for a year to show and sell their wares during Merrie Monarch week.
But wait, there’s more! Lei makers and lei sellers, plate lunches, Sig Zane’s, the parade, the decor at Big Island Candies, usually as delicious as the chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies, art exhibitions at the Volcano Arts Center Gallery. Halau visits to the volcano. Follow me. I will do my best to take you there.
Lynn Cook is a freelance arts and culture writer who has danced hula for 25 years.