After the canceled Merrie Monarch festival in 2020 at a live audience event last year, Maui halau competing next week are excited and grateful to have a crowd in person, even though it will only be a handful of thousands of viewers that they are used to.
“We are very excited to have an audience,” joked Kumu Hula Kamaka Kukona from Halau O Ka Hanu Lehua based in Wailuku.
“Apart from jokes, we are excited that some of our family and friends will be able to join us in person.”
‘Iliahi Paredes from Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi expressed similar feelings, saying that he and his wife, teammates Kumu Hula Haunani Paredes, are “Excited and grateful” to be in front of the spectators, who this year will be supporters of ohana and halau.
“We look forward to being surrounded by the positive energies of this year’s live audience.” said ‘Iliahi Paredes from Wailuku-based halau.
“The arena in the arena will be electrifying and we can’t wait.” he added.
The two aunts will represent Maui in the hula competition of the 59th annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo. The Miss Aloha Hula or female soloist contest is on Thursday.
Halau O Ka Hanu Lehua’s Riann Nalani Michiko Fujihara and Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi Halau Kyleigh Hokuao Manuel-Sagon will both compete in the solo competition.
The individual halau will then compete on Friday in the kahiko hula category, or ancient hula. Saturday will be the category ‘auana, or modern hula. It will be followed by awards.
In 2020, the competition was canceled due to COVID-19. Last year’s performances returned to the stage in Hilo but were recorded without an audience and aired later.
This year there will be 18 halau who will perform in front of the families of the dancers along with the old supporters and sponsors of the festival, according to the festival website. There were no general public ticket sales for the competition part.
However, the competition will be broadcast on K5 and will be broadcast live on its website.
Not only is having a live audience special for Kukona and its halau, but this year marks the 15th year since halau was first invited to compete with her husbands, or have, at the 2007 festival.
As a sign for the anniversary, Kukona said 19 halaut women will also dance “A Ko’olau Au”, in the kahiko competition, as men did 15 years ago.
The jump comes from the saga of Pele, the volcano goddess, and Pele’s sister, Hi’iaka, which tells of the torrential storms Hi’iaka faces on the Oahu wind side, Kukona explained.
He said the dance was narrated to him by his godfather, Kamamalu Klein, and her godfather, Maiki Aiu.
For the ‘auan, the women will dance with an original composition from Kukona.
“Breaking the Ehuka”, talks about a trip to Kauai more than 20 years ago to visit and dance in Ke Ahu A Laka, Kauluapaoa Ke’e, without the scary and famous hula heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple or shrine.
Kukona told The Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea, “He has been so generous” allowing halau to use the luau terrain of the resort for their large Merrie Monarch rehearsals.
Kukona had to find a place where halau could describe the big stage that is at the Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium in Hilo.
Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi is also no stranger to the stadium scene and the hula competition. Halau last year won the wahine division and finished second overall among all halau.
Iliahi Paredes said that last year, “Performing without an audience challenged us to do our best, regardless of the circumstances.”
“Our Haumana (students) faced the challenge and we are very proud of their achievements.” he added.
This year Paredes’s halau will bring 22 vahines and nine canes.
The classic women’s hula will appear “I miss you,” or “Fog is the rain.” It goes back to 1878 when Princess Ka’iulani was a child. The composition speaks for Mauin and the upper reaches of the Wailuku and its surrounding valleys.
The hula ‘auana of the woman will be “Ke Aloha I Maunawili”, Which means, “Let love always return to Maunawili.” It was composed by ‘Iliahi Paredes for his grandmother Mary Rebecca Kaleleiki Lee. His grandmother “Mele” was born and raised in Maunawili, Oahu.
For their kahiko competition they will dance “Ku’u Ipo Kehau”, or “My dear mist.” It was composed for and in honor of Prince Jonah Kuhio.
Auana will be “Ele’io” and it is an easy brawl for the cookie, or quick messenger, of Chief Kaka’alaneo who held the court at Keka’a on the west side of Maui. It was also composed by ‘Iliahi Paredes.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.