Review: ‘Ka Leo Kanaka’ at Hawaii Theatre
REVIEW BY WANDA A. ADAMS / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Patrick Makuakane knows just how far to stretch the rules of hula — just far enough so they don’t snap back.
Makuakane, born on O’ahu, is kumu hula and founder of Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu (Feather Garlands from the Heights), based in San Francisco. Charming, articulate, kolohe (rascally), Makuakane narrates his 30-member troupe’s shows, choreographs them, beats the pahu, sings and even dances (most kumu don’t, in performance).
‘KA LEO KANAKA’
Featuring Na Lei Hulu i ka Weikiu
» Where: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.
And when Friday’s opening night performance at Hawai’i Theatre, the people — including his own kumu, Robert Cazimero, kumu Keali’i Reichel of Maui and “The Kumz,” Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang of Halau i ka Wekiu — were on their feet, screaming with amazement and appreciation.
This is not your Auntie Dottie’s ho’ike (exhibition).
While the dances remain grounded in the familiar foundation movements of hula, Makuakane weaves in his own ideas, employing music and moves that range from Charleston to modern dance, jazz to rap. Costuming is scrumptious, sophisticated and ideally suited to each selection.
The multimedia show features images projected onto a screen behind the dancers and cuts of interviews with language experts Puakea Nogelmeier and Ka’i Sai-Dudoit. The inspiration for this show, “Ka Leo Kanaka” (“The Voice of the People”), is the 100 years of Hawaiian language newspapers published in Hawai’i and a volunteer-driven project that has seen 75,000 pages of text transcribed and made searchable. Ka Hulu won a competition between halau to translate the most pages.
“So you go ahead and win all your Merrie Monarchs,” Makuakane joked. “We can win something, too!”
Makuakane does not enter the premier hula festival held annually in Hilo but did return in 2013, on the 50th anniversary, to dance with Cazimero’s Halau Na Kamalei in the free, pre-competition ho’ike.
Having covered seven Merrie Monarchs in person and watched countless nights on TV, Lei Hulu’s performance was a sight for this reviewer’s bored eyes. Not only does Makuakane’s work offer fresh insights into what contemporary hula can be, but his dancers eschew Stepford perfection for an air of relaxed confidence, eyes that connect with the audience, faces that authentically express emotion.
Makuakane opened with a traditional, kahiko-style hula telling of a portion of the sprawling Pele myth; the familiar story of the fire goddess’ love for the chief Lohi’au (“the stud daddy of Kaua’i”) and her beautiful sister Hi’iaka’s journey to fetch Lohi’au to her.
Makuakane quipped: “The moral of the story is DON’T send your gorgeous younger sister to bring your boyfriend from another island!” By the end, Hi’iaka and Lohi’au are getting it on and a furious Pele makes him into “a lava sandwich,” he said.
These interpolations are typical of Makuakane’s commitment to demystifying Hawaiian culture. In introducing the dances, pages of Hawaiian newspapers were projected onto the screen and the sometimes poignant, sometimes educational and sometimes hilarious pieces translated — hilarious in that people used the paper to make announcements, such as a married couple’s side-splitting, he-said/she-said debate about fidelity and money.
It is impossible within the confines of this medium to convey the breadth of this show. Makuakane went from King Kalakaua to Louie Armstrong (who knew he did a “Jazz Goes Hawaiian” album?), Michael Jackson to Spandau Ballet. His spoof on allegations that Pres. Barack Obama was not born here, “The Birth Certificate Hula” (to the familiar tune of “Aloha Week Hula”) brought down the house as well.
The classic “Embraceable You,” performed by Desireee Woodward-Lee in a rose satin gown and gardenias, had women of a certain age misting up.
A kanikau (dirge, of which thousands were published in the papers) about the tragic death at a young age of Prince Albert Edward, son of Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV, brought respectful silence. And bragging songs about the newspapers themselves were a delightful surprise.
Makuakane recalled Nogelmeier, a composer and teacher of Hawaiian, teasing him about leaving a verse out of a mele.
Retorted Makuakane, “The truth is, if I sang every verse of every song in the newspapers, we would be here until three o’clock in the morning!”
Wanda Adams, an O’ahu-based freelance writer, took her first hula class from Auntie Emma Sharpe of Maui when she was 5 years old.