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Merrie Monarch cuts loose with a night of dance, fun for participants

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This year’s Wednesday night Hoike at the 50th Merrie Monarch Festival — featuring a reunion of Hawaii’s most noted kumu hula and dancers from the past five decades — is generating as much buzz as the headlining hula competition.

The program for the dance exhibition in Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo, traditionally offered the day before the Miss Aloha Hula contest kicks off three days of competition, promises a step back in time, bringing some of the participants from the very first competition back to the stage again.



» Hoolaulea with performances by local halau, 9 a.m. today, Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium; free.

» Coronation Pageant, 6 p.m. today, Hilo Armory; Free.

» King Kalakaua Beard & Look-Alike Contest, 5 p.m. Monday, Mo’oheau Bandstand.

» Barbershop quartet contest, 5 p.m. Tuesday, Mo’oheau Bandstand.

» Entertainment at Naniloa Volcanoes Resort (noon) and Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (1 p.m.), Monday through Friday; free.

» Arts and Crafts Fair, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.

» Hoike, an exhibition of hula and music, 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, Edith Kanaka’ole Multi-Purpose Stadium; sold out.

» Miss Aloha Hula competition, 5:45 p.m. Thursday, Edith Kanaka’ole Multi-Purpose Stadium; sold out.

» Group hula kahiko competition, 5:45 p.m. Friday, Edith Kanaka’ole Multi-Purpose Stadium; sold out.

» Group hula auana competition and awards, 5:45 p.m. Saturday, Edith Kanaka’ole Multi-Purpose Stadium; sold out.

» Merrie Monarch Royal Parade, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, begins and ends at Pauahi Street and winds through downtown Hilo.

For more information, visit www.merriemonarch.com.



» 6 p.m.: “The Light in the Lady’s Eyes,” a documentary profiling kumu hula Aloha Dalire and her three daughters, all of whom have won the festival title of Miss Aloha Hula

» 7 p.m.: “Best of the Merrie Monarch Festival 2011”

» 8 p.m.: “Best of the Merrie Monarch Festival 2012”


» 7 p.m.: “The Hawaiians: Reflecting Spirit,” Edgy Lee’s 2005 documentary

» 8 p.m.: “Merrie Monarch Festival: Backstage Live,” interviews and highlights of the Hoike

Thursday to Saturday:

Live coverage of the Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition, starting each day at 6 p.m.; Miss Aloha Hula solo competition, Thursday; hula kahiko group competition, Friday; hula auana group competition, Saturday

Note: Live streaming of the competition is available at k5thehometeam.com; individual performances will be available online the following day.


» For special coverage of the 50th Merrie Monarch Festival, including Lynn Cook’s live blog “This is Hula,” visit merriemonarch.staradvertiser.com

» See video of the original Miss Hula, Aloha Dalire, perform her winning dance from 1971.

Some of those “originals” include dancers from the Hau‘oli Hula Maids, overall winners in 1971, as well as ‘Ilima Hula Studio, Men of Waimapuna and kumu hula Leina‘ala Kalama Heine’s Na Pualei O Likolehua.

Noted entertainer and kumu hula Robert Cazimero is bringing 50 dancers — past and present — from his Halau Na Kamalei, the first male halau to place at the festival in 1976, the first year men were admitted to the competition.

Some 35 original dancers from the Men of Waimapuna will perform the first chants and signature hulas they learned from late kumu hula Darrell Lupenui, including the ones they first did in 1978, according to kumu hula Chinky Mahoe, who is involved in both the Hoike and Merrie Monarch competition this year.

Kumu hula Aloha Dalire, the first Miss Aloha Hula in 1971, will perform, calling up all the former winners — including her three daughters — to join her on stage.

Halau o Kekuhi, the Hilo halau belonging to the lineage of Edith Kanaka‘ole, also will take part in the Hoike, as it has from the beginning, demonstrating its low-postured, bombastic style of hula.

The celebration is a nod to many of the halau and entertainers from the past who have made Merrie Monarch what it is today.

“That’s what the Hoike this year is all about, to honor those people that stuck it out,” said festival president Luana Kawelu. “It’s through their hard work and determination that we have such a beautiful festival today.”

THE HOIKE, a mainstay of the festival, is when Hilo residents and visitors alike flock to the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium for stellar performances that can include everything from hula to the dances of Samoa, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Philippines.

It’s an event where keiki dancers as well as noted halau from Japan, who are not eligible for the contest, can perform on the same stage as the competitors.

Winners from past competitions are also invited to dance.

“Hoike really is a noncompetitive showing of entertainment,” said Skylark Rossetti, a radio personality who has been the show’s emcee for the last 30 years. “It’s like a warm-up night to lighten things up. It’s just an exciting night to share culture.”

One of the best parts of it all is that — with the exception of this year — admission to the Hoike has always been free. In past years, people would start lining up early in the morning and camp out the entire day to get a seat.

Because of the night’s special program of entertainment commemorating Merrie Monarch’s 50th year, the organizing committee charged $5 for Hoike tickets this year, according to Kawelu. The tickets are sold out. Next year Hoike will be free again.

GIVEN the choice between competing or dancing at the Hoike, kumu hula Lani Girl Kaleiki-AhLo of Oahu chose the latter this year because it was an opportunity to have fun and demonstrate her halau’s defined style of soft hands and lifted shoulders for expressiveness.

But she does plan to compete again.

Kaleiki-AhLo is gathering ‘Ilima Hula Studio dancers from the late 1950s to ‘80s to perform “He U‘i.” She also has several former Miss Aloha Hulas from the ’70s.

The mele, she says, is in honor of Uncle Kekua Fernandez, Sam Bernard, Keali‘i Joy, Ainsley Halemanu and Lupenui and all the musicians from what she calls the old-fashioned “chalangalang” period of Hawaiian music.

“It’s a lot of work either way because you have the dancers, costuming, song, choreography,” she said. “You have to do it the best that you can because the people that you’re representing are awesome people.”

Kaleiki-AhLo is carrying on the legacy of her mother, Louise Kaleiki, who founded ‘Ilima Hula Studio in 1957.

Kumu hula Kilohana Silve of Manoa is particularly looking forward to seeing some old-time hula at Hoike this year.

“We’re going to see halau you rarely get to see, including people who were part of Merrie Monarch years ago and are coming back to do a very special presentation,” she said. “It’s very exciting to go back to these roots and see styles that are so pure.”

Rossetti said this year’s Hoike also will salute many of the kumu hula who have recorded music, including Cazimero, Mahoe, Keali‘i Reichel, Natalie Ai Kamauu and Manu Boyd.

“We always have our musicians down on the floor and in the corner because the focus is on hula,” said Rosetti. “Merrie Monarch would like to honor the musicians because without them we wouldn’t have the second part of our competition.”

SINCE the earliest days of the festival, there was free entertainment before the competition, according to Rossetti, though it may not have been officially called the Hoike, which means “to show, exhibit,” until later years.

The 1979 program, for example, lists a Monday evening performance by Halau o Kekuhi at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel and an 8 p.m. concert by the Brothers Cazimero for a $4 cover charge at the Nani­loa Surf Hotel. Two evenings later ‘Ilima Hula Studio presented “Polynesian Holiday” at the stadium, followed by a free concert by The Halonas plus Eddie Ogawa & the Hana Hou Trio at the Seven Seas Luau House.

In the ’90s the program evolved into a “Wednesday Night Extravaganza” and was listed as the “Wednesday Night Hoike” in 1995. That year the Hoike featured the Merrie Monarch Men’s Glee Club, along with Johnny Lum Ho and Na Halau o ke Akua Aloha directed by siblings Derek and Stanette Nu‘u­hiwa.

“It was still nerve-wracking but it was enjoyable,” said Stanette Nu‘u­hiwa, the 1986 Miss Aloha Hula. “It was a relief to perform without being judged that year.”

At that performance the Nu‘u­hi­was paid tribute to Lupe­nui, founder of Wai­ma­puna. Stanette recalls bringing many keiki to that Hoike performance who later went on to compete at the festival.

She is particularly looking forward to seeing the Men of Wai­ma­puna onstage again.

The men made history at the festival in 1986 when they gave a powerful kahiko performance depicting the battle scenes of Molokai dressed in malo with no front or back flaps. The men, though 30 years older today, will offer a glimpse of the past at Hoike.

“Definitely, Darrell will be smiling,” Nu‘u­hiwa said.

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