The eyes of the hula world and the lenses of television cameras will focus upon the three nights of Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition, but for sheer entertainment value, Wednesday night’s Hoike is a show not to be missed.
While the Hoike is an exhibition and is not judged, it has all the pomp and circumstance of the festival’s competition, starting with the entrance of the Merrie Monarch Royal Court at 5:45 p.m., followed by the national anthem and “Hawaii Ponoi” by Kamehameha Schools Hawaii Campus Concert Glee and an opening pule by Kahu Wendell Davis.
This year’s Hoike will once again feature free admission, unlike last year’s 50th anniversary edition which brought back and honored the old halau and featured a concert with kumu hula who are also recording artists. There will be no tickets, and those wishing to see the performance will line up first-come, first-served at Edith Kanakaole Multipurpose Stadium.
As they have every year since 1997, Hilo’s Halau O Kekuhi will perform under the direction of kumu hula and Merrie Monarch hula judge Nalani Kanakaole, daughter of Edith Kanakaole, the revered cultural icon who died in 1979.
The Hilo halau will perform several mele to honor the Merrie Monarch, King Kalakaua, and his queen, Kapiolani.
Those include “Na Kihakalani,” a birth chant for Kalakaua, “He Nalu O Kalakaua,” a wave/surfing chant, “Maewaikalani,” a mele praising the swaying locks of Queen Kapiolani’s hair, and a mele mai, or genital chant, praising the genitals of the king.
The dances for Kapiolani and the mele mai for Kalakaua are both done with the uliuli, gourd rattles held by the dancers.
Also returning to perform this year is the Ilima Hula Studio and Family, under the direction of kumu hula Lani-Girl Kaleiki-AhLo. Kaleiki-AhLo, daughter of the late kumu hula Louise Kahiliokalani Kaleiki, brought kupuna from her halau to dance in last year’s Hoike, some of whom danced when the halau notched its first Merrie Monarch win in 1974.
Traditionally, Hoike features hula and Polynesian dance from around the Pacific, and this year’s Hoike is no exception, with two halau from Japan and a champion Maori dance troupe from Aotearoa (New Zealand) as featured performers.
Halau Na Mamo O Kaleinani from Shibuya, Japan, won the 2013 Ikaho Hawaiian Festival hula competition in Japan and with it, an invitation to perform at this year’s Hoike. The competition is held every four years and the halau also won in 2009 and performed in 2010’s Hoike.
The halau’s kumu hula, Seiko Kaleinanikauikawekiu Okamoto, has been a student of kumu hula Aloha Dalire for 22 years.
“This past August at our 50th anniversary, she became a kumu hula,” said Dalire, who added she “wouldn’t just give out the title of kumu hula.”
“You have to be deserving of it; she’s made me proud,” Dalire said. “Over the years, she’s done a lot of hard work. For her and I, the work that we did, it was just like training my daughters. … You don’t ask, you don’t study to become a kumu hula; you are chosen, selected by the work that you do.”
Dalire said Okamoto will bring both wahine and kupuna dancers with her.
“The thing that I am so pleased and excited about is that her kupuna had the highest scores and they did hula kahiko as well as hula auana. And to me, that is exciting. There are not many of our kupuna groups here that do hula kahiko. And they even did an iliili number,” Dalire said, referring to a pair of water-worn stones held in each hand by the dancer to make a clicking sound.
Dalire said she didn’t know what dances Okamoto’s halau would perform.
“She told me, ‘Kumu, I’m going to surprise you,’” she said.
The other Japanese halau is Tokyo’s Halau Hula O Mehanaokala under the direction of kumu hula Kuuleinani Hashimoto. Hashimoto started her training in hula with kumu hula Louise and Luka Kaleiki at Ilima Hula Studio, where she also learned Tahitian, Maori and Samoan dance. Hashimoto has continued her hula training for more than two decades with kumu hula Noenoelani Zuttermeister Lewis, one of the festival’s judges.
Halau Hula O Mehanaokala also performed at the Merrie Monarch Festival Hoike in 1996, 2002 and 2007, dancing both traditional and modern hula as well as Tahitian dance.
The Maori dance troupe is Te Waka Huia of Auckland, New Zealand, which won its fifth Te Matatini National Championship in kapa haka (Maori performing arts) in February 2013. The prestigious festival is held every other year.
Te Waka Huia first qualified to compete in the national competition in 1986 and won outright in its debut performance, a historical first.
According to its website: “Te Waka Huia is a family oriented group managed and taught by Ngapo and Pimia Wehi and their family. Te Waka Huia are brought together by a common desire to retain, maintain and enjoy the performance of the Traditional Maori Performing Arts. We embrace each other through our tribal genealogies and our affinity with those who acknowledge Aotearoa as their turangawaewae (place to stand and know one has the right to do so).”