HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - There's no greater audience for hula than the Merrie Monarch Festival. Thousands pack into the Edith Kanaka'ole Stadium and tens of thousands more around the world watch from home. For one week, all eyes are on Hilo and hearts are with hula.
A young group of dancers wants to capture that excitement for Hawaiian culture and expand it beyond the annual festival with a new show in Waikiki. This latest performance to hit the stage is making a name for itself because of its deep cultural roots and its mission to share old Hawai?i in a modern-day setting.
Hula is a form of storytelling passed down through generations of Native Hawaiians. Each mele, or song, offers an opportunity for Hawaiian folklore and history to be retold and remembered in a modern time. “Myth, Hidden Legends of Old Hawai'i” is hoping to do just that for an audience of both locals and visitors in Waikiki.
"Projects like this will definitely thrive here, because it's always been here – we're just reawakening it,” described Carrington Manaola Yap, the choreographer who brings the tales of Hawaiian gods and goddesses to life on stage. “The perpetuation and the kuleana and the responsibility that we have in this generation to make sure that the arts is carried on to the next is what motivates us.”
"There's many different stories we cover in ‘Myth, Hidden Legends' – there's happy stories, sad stories, fun stories. Anger, rage, betrayal – all these human emotions. We like to communicate with the audience on that level because although our story is Hawaiian in origin the language of the heart and soul is always the same,” said Yap.
Myth's Merrie Monarch connection runs deep. The show was developed from meticulous research gathered to bring mele onto the Festival stage – songs that were once performed by Na Lei o Kaholoku, under the direction of Kumu Nani Lim Yap, Manaola's mom.
“They need to be heard. They need to be told. So these stories put together in sequences like Myth has become very special. I'm proud of what Manaola has done, so it's a great opportunity for these people to see these stories of our Hawai?i,” said Nani Lim Yap.
Most of the performers are veteran Merrie Monarch dancers – a former Miss Aloha Hula shares the stage with a dancer who will be competing for the coveted title this year.
“Manaola taught us all the meanings and the ike behind every song that we do and that's what I love about it, because even more so you want to dance with your heart,” said Abby Resulta, who performs as Pele.
Mr. Hula 'Oni E performs alongside kane who dance in the halau that won overall last year.
“To bring back old traditions into Hawaii, I think it's a beautiful thing. It's definitely a new start, a new era. Everything's on point with true kanaka. True ‘olapa, kumu hula who are here to keep Hawai'i here and keep the culture in Hawai'i,” said Kainoa Keana'aina, who won Mr. Hula Oni E last year.
While the show is still in its infancy, local cultural practitioners believe it has a bright future in its effort to ensure tales about old Hawai'i have life beyond the Merrie Monarch stage.
"My initial reaction was opening night and I loved it as I left. I like the concept behind it. It was beautifully executed. But the idea behind it – this was all fed from stories right here and that gives it meat, a really positive kind of density,” said Puakea Nogelmeier, a Hawaiian language professor at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.
"Hula is a way of life and it's actually 365 days out of the year. Hula is the bridge to all of these other stories,” said Nogelmeier.
“Myth, Hidden Legends of Old Hawai'i” is in its first six month run at the Sheraton Princess Ka'iulani every Wednesday and Friday night.
The 52nd annual Merrie Monarch Festival is officially underway. Hawaii News Now is your only source for coverage on-stage and behind-the-scenes of the biggest hula competition and celebration of Hawaiian culture in the world.