HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - "Everybody has been working very hard and this is just the continuation of what we call our journey to Merrie Monarch," said Kumu Hula Michael Lanakila Casupang of Halau I Ka Wekiu at the Honolulu International Airport Wednesday morning.
Dancer pushed boxes of fresh lei stacked high into the ticket area, and their emotions were just as high as they prepared to leave Oahu for the prestigious Merrie Monarch Festival Competition in Hilo.
For 23-year-old hula dancer Braden Abe, this is his third time to Merrie Monarch.
"We've all been practicing for about six months, so we're all just really excited to get to this point for all of our hard work and practice to be put to the stage," said Abe.
The halau, with 50 dancers and traveling family members, all locked arms in a circle and bowed their heads for a morning pule, or prayer, after checking their luggage before heading toward the gate.
They've all come together for an experience of a lifetime - performing live before a crowd of hundreds while thousands more watch the captivating performances streamed live on the internet around the world.
This trip is 19-year-old Kanoe Perreira's first time to compete in the Merrie Monarch Festival, now in its 49th year.
"We feel ready," said the second-year Chaminade University student. "I think we're really prepared for this. But I'm also excited to see the other halaus to see how hard they worked as well."
The competition is fierce as halau compete in with a traditional hula, Kahiko, performance on Friday night, April 11, and a more modern hula style or Auana on Saturday, April 12. But Thursday night, it's all about, one. Sarah Noyle will represent Halau I Ka Wekiu for the title of Miss Aloha Hula during the first night of competition.
"I'm doing a tribute for Princess Kaiulani in both my kahiko and my auana," said Noyle. "She's a role model of mine. Many things in both of our lives seem to be parallel to one another."
"We just hope that they'll do their very best and when the performance does come that they reach their peak," said Kumu Lanakila. "Ka Wekiu is like the summit. And so we hope that, they haven't' reached it yet, but we hope it comes together, the connection with each other, the feelings that come out of the dance and the songs and that it all kind of like, gels at the right moment.
The halau will make their traditional visit to the rim of Halemaumau Crater Thursday at Volcanoes National Park to honor the Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele.
This week's celebration of hula will also be a celebration of life as the hula community remembers Kumu Hula O'Brian Esulu of Halau Ke Kai O Kahiki, who died April second. Eselu led his halau to several Merrie Monarch wins, most recently with his kane who took First Place - Overall last year.
"I'm sad for that happening and I hope there's some kind of tribute for that and I hope to see that this year, said Perreira.
The festival which celebrates "Merrie Monarch" King David Kalakaua for reinvigorating Hawaiian culture is one of honor, tradition, talent and beauty that reminds us, why we often say in the islands, "So lucky, we live Hawaii."
Merrie Monarch LIVE Coverage:
Hawaii News Now is proud to bring you LIVE coverage of this year's Merrie Monarch Festival on KFVE (Ch. 5 on your cable box).
Starting Wednesday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m.: Go backstage at Edith Kanakaole Stadium for the Ho'ike free hula performance.
- Thursday, April 12 at 6 p.m.: Beginning of Miss Aloha Hula Competition.
- Friday, April 13 at 6 p.m.: Hula Kahiko Competition (traditional style)
- Saturday at 6 p.m.: Hula Auana Competition (modern style)