Merrie Monarch ho'ike exhibition requires hard work

HILO (HawaiiNewsNow) – Ho'ike means to show or exhibit, and while halau dancing at the Merrie Monarch festival didn't compete Wednesday night, they put in just as much work as if they did.

You'd think after 20 years, performing at the ho'ike would be a breeze for kumu hula Nalani Kanaka'ole. "I always get nervous," she says.

And when you're a stickler for technique, the pressure is on - even though her Halau o Kekuhi isn't in the contest.

"I think it's a different type of intensity. Here, we're more concerned with putting over the story," Kanaka'ole explains about her halau's 50 minute performance.

This year, their dance depicts the goddess Pele and her sister, Hi'iaka. Hi'iaka enlists the help of another goddess, Kapo Ula Kina'u - for her spiritual powers. Kanaka'ole says, "I'm not afraid to say that there are dark elements within her realm, and it's easy to see and feel more than what you see in the words." Hula patrons don't usually see this kind of dark dance at the Merrie Monarch festival.

The exhibition performance is sometimes just as complex as the competition itself. That's why these dancers have been preparing since October. "You gotta show up for practice. You gotta come, and if you do some kind of exercise outside, then that helps," dancer Lahela Camara says.

Kanaka'ole committed to the concept, material, and chants of this ho'ike performance long ago. "We lay a lot of the work probably two years ahead of time."

And just like their kumu, the dancers say, no matter how many times they've taken the stage in the past, the butterflies return.

"Yeah, you still get the oogies," says dancer Mele Kahananui. "You have to psych yourself out to get there. That's one of the reasons why you kind of get all, 'Okay, what am I going to do? What am I doing? Oh, my God!' and then, you just gotta get over it."

Once they get in the zone on stage, though, the hula takes over - until the end of the dance - when audience applause reminds them just how far they've come.

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