REVIEW: Halau O Kekuhi Furthers Repertoire in Hi’iaka Wahinepo’aimoku

February 1, 2010, 1:02 PM HST · Updated February 1, 1:20 PM
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By Jade Moss

A young girl’s quest to find herself lies at the heart of the opera-length hula drama, Holo Mai Pele: Hi’iaka Wahinepo-aimoku and, as Hawaiian myth would have it, she transcends physical limitations and evolves to flourish into a goddess. 

Bringing the legend of Pele and her youngest sister, Hi’iaka, back to contemporary theater, renowned Halau O Kekuhi of Hawaii Island performed the long-awaited sequel to Holo Mai Pele on Saturday at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s Castle Theater.

Deliberate, low and strong movements characterized the ‘aiha’a style of hula and harsh chant, or ’oli, which Halau O Kekuhi is celebrated for. In deep squats and pushing from the stage, it seemed as if each dancer embodied Pele’s eruptive nature.

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The two-hour show is a clear test of endurance as each scene left performers panting and out of breath when introducing the next, which they do twice: first in Hawaiian, then in English for those with a foreign ear.

An artistic display of Hawaiian culture and storytelling, each dancer demonstrated a well-rounded mix of hula, deep-bellied chant, drumming and theater with an array of props, to tell the tale.

In summary-

Hi’iaka receives praise from Pele for her fine hula, as the young dancer who portrayed Hi’iaka did for her solo performances from the audience, and is sent on a journey to Kauai to retrieve Pele’s lover, Lohi’au. A quest fit for a woman.

To assist Hi’iaka along the way, Pele presents her with a skirt infused with power, which she soon uses as a shield in a battle against the dragon lizard, Pana’ewa, when she traverses the forest.  Later, when the powerful skirts make another appearance, they descend from above into the dancers’ outstretched arms.

The scene held a courageous tone with what looked like an army of dancers, about 20 and only a handful of them kane, stomping in unison, some gracefully chopping at the air with hefty bamboo sticks, or spears, to help Hi’iaka defeat the beast.

The scene is Maui, next, where Hi’iaka searches and finds her sister, Kapo. A dance ensued and flute-like instruments were played, likely to signify the bright rainbow hues at Kapo’s presence, as the story went.

When Hi’iaka makes her way to Kauai, she finds the limbless seer and family historian and heals him with a display of her healing powers. The scene takes a calm turn, when statuesque dancers make the slightest movements to a faint chant and tapping music. She retrieves Lohi’au, but not before she learns of his future passing.

With Lohi’au, they venture back to Hawaii via Oahu. While at a feast with the forest goddesses of Wai’anae, Hi’iaka learns of the destruction of her own forest and the death of her beloved friend, Pele’s doing.

Hi’iaka furiously arrives at Kilauea with Lohi’au in tow. A battle between the sisters transpires as Hi’iaka finds her godly strength, with Lohi’au caught in the middle he is destroyed.

In the end, the elder gods intervene and restore order. Lohi’au’s spirit is revived and Pele’s Kanawai, or law, is established. A final, bellowing ’oli brought the army of performers to the edge of the stage, Kuma Hula at each end of the wall of bodies.

Under the lead of Kumu Hula Nalani Kanaka’ole and Kekuhi Keali’ikanaka’ole Kanahele, Halau O Kekuhi will bring the performance to the shores of Japan this June.

The original hula drama debuted in 1995 and was televised on PBS: Great Performances in 2001.

Recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, Halau O Kekuhi received the National Heritage Fellowship Award in 1993, the most prestigious award given by the agency.

(Placeholder image courtesy: Maui Arts & Cultural Center)

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