HILO » If there was only one word to describe the group kahiko competition at the 53nd Merrie Monarch Festival on Friday night, it would be awe-inspiring.
A total of 29 groups –nine kane and 20 wahine — brought the best of ancient-style hula to Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium.
Both veteran and new generations of kumu brought their halau to the stage to celebrate the alii and akua and beautiful places of Hawaii, affirming that hula is not only alive and well, but will continue well into the future.
Through their dances, the halau took the audience on a journey from Waipio Valley on Hawaii island to the uplands and valleys of Hanalei on Kauai and special places of Niihau.
Kumu hula Niuli‘i Heine made an emotional debut on stage, taking the reins for Na Pualei o Likolehua this year in place of her mother, kumu Leina‘ala Kalama Heine, who died in September.
Thirty-five dancers performed a beautiful kahiko, “Haumea,” in her honor, celebrating the kumu who embodied the earth-mother and goddess of fertility, producing generations of new leaders and dancers. The halau celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
The bar was set high, with original choreography and displays of grace and athleticism from both the men’s and women’s groups. The top-placing three halau from last year performed at the end, making it well worthwhile to remain until the competition’s conclusion just before midnight.
Kumu Mark Keali‘i Ho‘omalu of the Academy of Hawaiian Arts in Oakland, Calif. canceled a performance of “Kunihi Ka‘ene Holo I Ka Malie” by his wahine dancers, slated as No. 8 in the program, on Friday night.
The decision was difficult one, according to festival president Luana Kawelu, but made due to illness. Therefore, the wahine from the Academy of Hawaiian Arts will not be performing in the group auana competition Saturday night.
Ho‘omalu managed to get his kane group, scheduled as No. 12 on the program, on stage to perform “Hana Waimea I Ka ‘Upena A Ka Makani,” a mele telling of Waimea’s striking landscape. Ho‘omalu’s signature movements and rhythms are always popular with the audience.
This year’s panel of judges include Keith Awai, Ed Collier, Ainsley Halemanu, Lahela Ka‘aihue, Etua Lopes, Pi‘ilani Lua and Holoua Stender.
On Thursday night, 12 solo dancers vied for the title of Miss Aloha Hula, which went to Kayli Ka‘iulani Carr of Halau Hi‘iakainamakalehua. Following Friday night’s group kahiko, the festival continues with the group auana competition Saturday night and announcement of winners and awards.