Hapa Haole Hula Gal: Ending with a smile
Note: Click here for more coverage of the 2012 Merrie Monarch Festival.
BY WANDA ADAMS / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Sunday, April 15: It all ends with a smile
So it comes down to this.
Sitting in Kuhio Grille, trying to decide between the kalua hash moco and the pork roast plate, giving the eye flash to Robert Cazimero who is sitting nearby in a frothy feather lei and a well-worn Sig Zane shirt, going over the results of the Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition and saying… “Huh?”
It wasn’t so much who won, it was all those halau whose performances we loved and thought deserved recognition. For example, that amazing departure on the familiar “Hiilawe,” by Halau Hula Olana (Olana and Howard Ai) toward the end auana night. I was actually singing along with the song before I realized what it was. Even the choreography and the hand motions were a departure from how the dance is traditionally taught.
It was mid-altering. But not a point winner. (The Ai’s halau often has been in this position in recent years; so close and yet so far. They really deserve more recognition.)
At breakfast, my friends and I decided there should be a costume prize and maybe one or two others. Like Best Performance When You Know You Have No Chance Whatsoever.
As we review videos on each others’ phones and laptops, the memories kaholo through my brain.
Trying to put it into some perspective, random lyrics play acorss my brain, “Huana Ka Makani E, o oe a’u a ku wao mai koni nani la, huana ka kamani e.”
I ask my friends, “what will you remember?” They mention, predictably, Chinky’ Mahoe’s mele mai. Mark Kealii Hoomalu’s wahine kahiko and the “cowboy guys,” Kaleo Trinidad’s “Na Paniolo.”
None of them were big winners. It was a strange Merrie Monarch. I could not even begin to predict winners. They came as a complete surprise to many of us. Not a bad surprise, just hmmm. Oh, okay. I can see that.
Best moment: Just off the plane, tired and sagging, a Samoan man in a black skirt. All the luggage he had was one black plastic garbage bag a and one 50-pound net bag taro. He made room for me to sit down. We waited for our rides. He smiled at me.
Big, beautiful smile.
A lovely ending.
Saturday, April 14: Change we must
“Everything is slipping,” said my friend. “Auntie Dottie died and you get makeup in kahiko.”
Yep, and hula noho in auana. And people casually stepping on the ramp, cutting the corner as they rush to the bathroom, thereby technically violating the sacred, pa, the stage reserved for hula, to be entered only by invitation.
As I visited with others during intermission, still seeking the theme for this blog update, the word “change” kept coming up. “Change we must,” as the late Nona Beamer famously said, titling a book.
Talked to Father George De Costa, who for many years led the pule before the competition every night. He said that he and cultural practitioner Auntie Agnes Cope, who sits near him in the front row, crinkled but game in her wheelchair, are the sole stayers from 1971, when Merrie Monarch all began.
It is impossible not to feel the presence here in Edith Kanakaole Tennis Stadium, of those who have gone before, including hula competition co-founders Dottie Thompson and George Naope, and many kumu hula, some of them way too young to go.
You see kumu who were once the bad boys now sitting in dignity, as judges. You have to laugh. I knew you when, brah!
The festival’s 49-year-history also encompasses the entire Hawaiian Renaissance; the explosion of knowledge about everything Hawaiian, including, particularly here, the oli, moolelo and mele once lost in crumbling files and now are available in computer databases.
There is this blending of the old and the new, as when two waves meet on the flat sand, and flow into each other. The 30-something generation of kumus, products of Hawaiian language immersion programs and Kamehameha Schools, has a very different perspective than did their kumus’ kumus almost 50 years ago. In some ways they’re stricter with regard to protocol, language usage, costuming. In others, they’re less willing to be placed in a centuries-old box.
Sometimes, I don’t know what to make of the kumu’s choices. Why does anyone EVER dance in shoes? Especially dyed-to-match poie de soie, as Chinky Mahoe’s girls are during right now? But I find myself weakening even on this long-held prejudice because it’s kind of retro-cute, when you think about it.
I love that the skill level has risen to precipitately that you almost never see anything resembling a flub. A fallen kupee the other night was the subject of debate at my house; should that count off in points?
I love that kumu have so many choices in reference points, materials, forgotten bits of history, little-known composers and such. You think they’re going to run out of something new, and they never do. You learn of events in the alii’s lives, long-faded love stories, bits of tantalizing history. I just love that part, too.
This year, we saw a lot of sweet nostalgia, in costuming (as the Miss Aloha Hula candidate, No. 12, Brandi Hart, performing to “Radio Hula” in a flowered sarong), and in many of the songs which people in my generation associate with those old “Guava Jam” days.
I’m finding myself impressed with different things. I don’t think so much of perfection as I used to. I’d rather see a few hands or feet out of place but feel a heart-to-heart connection with the dancer. Feel like they’re having fun, embodying the dance, existing in the moment. No frozen smiles, please.
As I wrote while watching the kane of Halau Hula Ke Lehua Tahine perform the “Waikiki Hula” earlier tonight: “The lines are not perfect. But if I were at a party, I’d be perfectly happy. They look like they’re enjoying themselves. Not perfection, but who cares?”