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Kahiko night presented innovation and tradition

By Nina Wu

LAST UPDATED: 2:01 a.m. HST, Apr 14, 2012

HILO » If any one halau stood out at the group kahiko (ancient-style) hula competition at the 49th Merrie Monarch Festival on Friday night, it would be kumu Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu's Academy of Hawaiian Arts.

The kane danced a dynamic mele hula composed by Ho'omalu honoring the male and female gods of fishing, with plenty of spearing action. The wahine danced an uncommon form of hula called "hula Mu'umu'u," which depicted movements of physically challenged people. Their stances were wide, and gestures masculine and warrior-like as they stomped their feet and shook their featherless 'uli 'uli.

Both numbers were guaranteed crowd-pleasers.

A total of 30 groups danced before judges during the festival's kahiko competition on Friday night.

Most halau competing this year are from Oahu, but Maui and Kauai are represented, and there are three from the U.S. mainland including Ho'omalu's Academy from Oakland, Calif.

Unfortunately, no halau from Hawaii Island is competing this year.

While other halau stuck closer to tradition, they were just as innovative in choreography, costumes and use of implements.

Early in the evening, the audience welcomed kumu hula Lani-Girl Kaleiki-AhLo back to Merrie Monarch after a 29-year hiatus. Her halau demonstrated the unique kahiko style of the 'Ilima Hula Studio, using white feather-capped 'uli 'uli for a mele about Lili'uokalani.

Kumu hula Aloha Dalire's Keolalaulani Halau 'Olapa O Laka performed a beautiful rendition of "Hopoe," representing a traditional kahiko set to the beat of a pahu drum.

The mele tells the famous story of how Pele destroys the beloved lehua groves of her younger sister, Hi'iaka, as well as her friend Hopoe in a fit of jealousy over Prince Lohiau.

Three rows of dancers, dressed in green, blue-grey and red pau, perhaps represented dancers from Dalire's halau in Kaneohe, Oahu; Hilo, Hawaii; and San Mateo, Calif.

It was amazing to see how they danced in unison although they were from three different halau locations.

Many numbers were memorable, including the creation chant and tribute to the god Wakea (who established the heavens and all celestial bodies) by the men of kumu hula Snowbird Puananiopaoakalani Bento's Ka Pa Hula O Ka Lei Lehua.

Kumu hula Kaleo Trinidad, who last year had his men dance with the ulili, a rarely seen hula implement, had his ladies do a noho hula (seated hula) with ipu heke this year.

Hula Halau O Kamuela, last year's group hula auana winners, wrapped up the evening with an awesome number using the papa hehi (foot treadleboard) combined with kalaau (hardwood sticks of different lengths).

Many songs honored alii as usual, such as King David Kalakaua, Queen Lili'uokalani and Kamehameha I as well as Princess Pauahi.

Hula dancers took the audience on a journey to many beautiful places on the isles, from the lush valley of Manoa to the summit of Mauna Kea. There were also mele celebrating the beauty Kauai and Molokai.

In an online Merrie Monarch poll, 51.9 percent of voters said their favorite numbers were about Hawaiian legends and gods, followed by praise of chiefs (including hula ma'i, or genital dances), then famous places, a romantic interest and important historical events.

The festival continues with the group hula auana competition tonight (Saturday), followed by the presentation of awards.

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