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Hula troupe from Pauoa hits competition's summit

By Nina Wu

LAST UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014

HILO » For three days the best of hula was on a world stage during the 49th annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

Dancers from across the isles and the mainland chanted and danced from their hearts at the Edith Kana­­­ka­‘ole Tennis Stadium as part of the festival, which concluded Saturday.

On Thursday night 12 solo dancers vied for the title of Miss Aloha Hula, which went to Rebecca Lilinoekekapahauomaunakea Sterling of Halau Mohala ‘Ilima of Kaohao, Oahu.

Thirty groups danced before judges during the festival's kahiko competition Friday night and auana competition Saturday night.

They told stories of their alii as well as of love affairs, romance, Hawaiian legends and many beautiful places in the isles, including specific waterfalls, sands and mountains.

But at the end it was Halau I Ka Wekiu of Pauoa, Oahu, that would impress the judges the most and take the title of the festival's overall winner.

The halau, under the direction of kumu hula Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang, swept all three kane divisions, including kahiko, auana and kane overall. It also took second place in wahine auana.

"As a kumu you love for your students to soar and always excel and get that ‘wekiu,' which is the summit," Baker told the Star-Advertiser after his halau's win. "Personally, I felt they hit the wekiu, and fortunately, the judges thought they did as well."

The men of Halau I Ka Wekiu performed "Hanohano Waimea," a mele composed for Queen Kapiolani as she traveled around Kauai. For auana they danced a mele called "Pua Lawena," honoring the joyful spirit of Ali‘i Chang and his Ali‘i Kula Lavender Farm in Upcountry Maui. Chang died last April at age 69. Baker said he wrote the song for his friend in 2008 after an inspirational trip to the farm.

Kumu hula Manu‘aikohana Boyd's Halau o ke A‘ali‘i Ku Makani competed for the sixth time and took top honors in the wahine kahiko division and wahine overall, performing a kahiko honoring Princess Likelike with style and precision. The mele, composed by Boyd, had unusual cadences that captivated the audience.

Boyd, Baker and Casupang share the same hula lineage. They are all graduates of Robert Cazimero's Halau Na Kamalei. Boyd and Cazimero were also part of the musical talent that sang for this year's Miss Aloha Hula.

"I'm so thankful we belong to a hula family with such strong roots that allow us to represent generations before us with a lot of aloha," Boyd said.

Besides the Miss Aloha Hula title, kumu Mapuana de Silva's Halau Mohala ‘Ilima, competing for the 34th consecutive year, took top honors for the wahine auana group division.

The mele they danced was a family effort: It was written by de Silva's husband, Kihei, and eldest daughter, Kahikina, and it was set to music by youngest daughter Kapalai‘ula.

De Silva likes to use the word "pono" to describe her feeling of satisfaction in seeing hula done well after proper preparation and hard work.

"It all comes back to ‘pono,'" said de Silva. "It's an honor to be rewarded for your work, but just being here is a reward for all of us. We came to represent our hula. Whether we win or not, we still come for the same reason."

Returning to Merrie Monarch after a 29-year hiatus was itself a victory for kumu Lani-Girl Kaleiki-Ahloa, who was second in the lineup on both nights.

For their auana number, the ladies of ‘Ilima Hula Studio brought the audience back in time in white lace Gibson gowns and feather hats trimmed in red as they performed "Moku o Keawe," telling of a dancer's homesickness for Hawaii island. They demonstrated the halau's unique elegance and style, with soft, flowing hands.

The ladies of Kumu Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin's Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala of Kalaheo, Kauai, were also a vision in flowing, white dresses and Niihau shell lei.

Their dance honored three distinguished women of Niihau with three mele, one of which was sung in the Niihau dialect, earning the halau fourth place in the group auana division.

Though the halau did not place, kumu Mark Keali‘i Ho‘omalu's Academy of Hawaiian Arts was a clear winner with the audience on kahiko night.

Ho‘omalu's rhythmic enhancement of his chants and thunderous choreography elicited screams of delight and applause as his kane, dressed in malo in hues of blue and green, danced in honor of the male and female gods of fishing, with plenty of spearing action.

The wahine demonstrated "hula muumuu," an uncommon form depicting movements of the physically challenged. Their mele, "Pi‘i Ana ‘A‘ama," described the activity of sea creatures— including crabs scuttling over the reef — as Pele flows into the ocean. Their stances were wide and their moves warriorlike as they spun, stomped their feet and shook their featherless uliuli.

On kahiko night some halau demonstrated skill in a number of implements, from iliili (water-worn pebbles) to uliuli (gourds filled with canna seeds), puili (split bamboo sticks), ipu heke (double-headed gourd) and papa hehi (foot treadle board) paired with kalaau (hand sticks).

Overall the festival showcased rooted traditions, perpetuated to new generations of dancers, as well as some innovations, both bold and subtle.

Next year marks the festival's 50th anniversary, and preparations are under way for a big reunion of kumu hula.

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