HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The first evening of hula performances from the 56th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival stage kicks off Wednesday with Hoʻike.
The opening number each year at the Merrie Monarch Festival Ho’ike is given to Aunty Edith’s family halau, Halau o Kekuhi ― not only because of the support she lent to the festival from the very beginning, but for the standard at which the halau has set the bar for hula kahiko.
Of course, the stadium where the festival competition takes place is also named after her.
The halau considers their performance the first offering or sacrifice on the Merrie Monarch stage, which they compare to an altar.
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Wednesday night’s 30-minute set, under the direction of Kumu Nalani Kanka’ole Zane, is one of the most highly-anticipated performances of the Festival.
This year, several of the mele were choreographed by four olapa who are currently in elevation within the halau.
“For me, it’s a very big deal personally because we started from the bottom up. We wrote the song, came up with the mele, we choreographed it and we tried to make it our own style but within the boundaries of how we were taught,” said Ulu Kanaka’ole.
“When you’re on this end of the ‘ipu you realize why your kumu hula is yelling at you so much. ‘Get in line! What are you doing? Straighten up your hand! That’s not what I did! I didn’t teach you that!’”
There are 11 olapa in elevation within halau — which has different requirements, including having to ho’o pa’a for other ‘olapa; or perform solo; or to compose chants.
Four were chosen to then take their chant and choreograph the moves for tonight’s Ho’ike performance.
“We weren’t asked. Hula is a dictatorship. We do what we’re told,” said Kuha’o Zane, with a laugh.
“For me, my mom is one of my idols as far a choreography is concerned. Her concept of movement and her concept of allowing these movements to live through the generations ― I think those different concepts were so fresh in my mind that this is my one chance to be able to try to show my mom that after 20 years I learned something. I think that’s what the whole opportunity was for us to be able to live up to the generational lineage that is passed down.”
Also performing Wednesday night: Groups from Alaska, Korea and Aotearoa.
Festival President Aunty Luana Kawelu says that hula is enjoyed all over the world as a celebration of our Hawaiian culture and she wants to make sure that other cultures have a platform to share their indigenous dances as well.