Kumu hula Drake Dudoit Delaforce did not actually aspire to start his own halau.
Yet this year, Delaforce’s Halau Keolakapuokalani will compete at the 56th annual Merrie Monarch Festival for the first time, bringing his hula journey full circle.
“I believe that, of course, everything happens for a reason and hula chooses you,” he said. “If you would have asked me when I was younger if I thought I was going to be a kumu hula, I would have probably said no. But you know, things happen in a certain way.”
He began by teaching hula to family and friends. Through word of mouth, the number of students grew, and he had a halau.
Delaforce, 46, is a former student of the late hula matriarch, kumu Aloha Dalire, and kumu Kimo Alama Keaulana.
56TH MERRIE MONARCH FESTIVAL
>> Hoike, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium, free.
>> Merrie Monarch Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair, 9 to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium
>> Merrie Monarch Royal Parade, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, downtown Hilo
Visit MerrieMonarch.com for the full schedule.
Watch on KFVE (Spectrum channel 1022/22, Hawaiian Tel channel 1013/13)
>> Merrie Monarch Backstage, 8 to 9 p.m., Wednesday
>> Miss Aloha Hula competition, 6 to 11:30 p.m., Thursday
>> Hula kahiko competition, 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., Friday
>> Hula auana competition and awards, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday
He brings traditions from both to the hallowed stage of the Merrie Monarch competition, which commences Thursday with the Miss Aloha Hula performances, continues Friday with group kahiko (ancient style) and concludes Saturday with group auana (modern style) hula.
Thirteen solo dancers are vying for the Miss Aloha Hula title while 29 groups — 19 wahine and 10 kane — are entered in the group competition this year.
Delaforce is bringing 10 kane — male dancers — to their first Merrie Monarch. The halau, representing Aliamanu and Nanakuli, also will be the first on stage Friday, one of the few times that men have opened the group competition.
For kahiko, the men are paying tribute to volcano goddess Madame Pele in a dance that tells of her battle with her sister, sea goddess Namakaokahai, and her journeys. It is a powerful hula and was selected before the Kilauea eruption began in early May, Delaforce said.
“This is one of my favorite Pele mele, so I thought it would be appropriate for us, being that it’s our first year, to present this as our kahiko mele,” he said. “It will honor Pele, and it will honor the moku (island) we’re dancing on.”
For auana, the men are performing a mele from Delaforce’s childhood — “Laupahoehoe Hula” — composed in the late 1950s. It is the first song he learned as a child from his grandmother.
“I thought how great would that be if we did the song at Merrie Monarch and some little boy is watching, and it inspires him to hula as well,” he said.
Kane make their mark
The bar at Merrie Monarch has been raised in every aspect, from lei to costumes to selection of mele, according to Delaforce, and it is nice to see 10 kane groups participating this year. He still remembers when he started taking hula lessons with Dalire and how he went to the back of the class behind “a sea” of wahine dancers.
Men’s groups began competing at Merrie Monarch in 1976.
“I think kane hula has come a long way,” he said.
This year, the men of Ke Kai O Kahiki of Waianae under the direction of kumu La‘akea Perry are paying tribute to the 40-year legacy of hula taught by the founders of their halau — the late kumu Thaddius Wilson, who died in 2004 at 52, and O’Brian Eselu, who died in 2012 at 56.
Originally founded in 1979 as Na Wai ‘Eha O Puna, the Four Waters of Puna, the halau became Ke Kai o Kahiki in 2000, which means “seas of the ancestral lands.”
For kahiko, they will perform a Niihau song — “Kahi Keia ‘O Ni‘ihau” — honoring that history.
“I learned it during the time when the halau was Na Wai ‘Eha O Puna,” said Perry, 48. “Again, we learned it when we transitioned to Ke Kai O Kahiki. ‘Niihau’ was actually the number that was performed when Ke Kai O Kahiki was given life. That’s a fitting way to pay tribute to our kumu and our traditions, our legacy.”
For auana, the halau will perform “Hualalai,” a favorite song of Eselu’s and one he had always wanted to choreograph.
“We tried several times to put it together,” said Perry. “Here it is, finally, complete.”
This year, Perry is bringing 15 dancers, more than in any past year. In 2010 when the halau swept the men’s division and took the overall title under Eselu, there were only six dancers. The halau has also grown to include keiki and wahine dancers.
“It’s kind of all encompassing,” said Perry of his goals this year. “I want to make sure we pay tribute to those who have founded this halau, all of the dancers that have come through the halau and have given their heart, everybody that supports us, our kokua, our families. I want to make sure that everyone knows that the tradition is alive and we’re growing but we’re also holding close to our roots.”
Eruption inspires mele
Kumu Shelsea Ai Apana, who took the reins of Halau Hula Olana of Pearl City in 2013, was inspired by the 2018 Kilauea Volcano eruption for her choice of mele this year.
“It’s very new for us to do Pele and Hi‘iaka,” said Apana, 35. “We usually tend to focus more on Kalakaua-era chants. That’s kind of our wheelhouse, but I wanted to stretch our minds and our thinking. As I was preparing to teach our girls, I was of course inspired by the eruption, but also the epic tale of Hi‘iaka.”
The mele tells of Pele’s youngest sister and her journey to Kauai to fetch Pele’s lover, longing all the while to return to her friend Hopoe in Puna. The journey was a treacherous one for someone so young and inexperienced, yet Hi‘iaka carried it out, she said.
Apana chose a chant that tells of her longing to return to Hopoe.
“This chant is a very traditional, simple chant,” she said. “It’s one that my gramma taught.”
Pele would eventually destroy Hi‘iaka’s lehua groves in Puna and her beloved Hopoe. Apana said she thought, in particular, about the lehua that was destroyed during the eruption and how it is now regrowing, signifying rebirth.
“We have to look toward that and know, just as our other islands have rebirthed, it is going through what it needs to do to create. It’s part of life,” she said.
This is the halau’s 32nd year at Merrie Monarch, and Apana’s 13-year-old daughter will be in the lineup for kahiko night. Apana, too, was 13 when she first danced at the world-renowned festival.
Learning by tradition
Delaforce said he learned from Dalire the tradition of visiting Halemaumau crater at Kilauea to pay respects to Pele upon arrival on Hawaii island.
In 2014, Delaforce accompanied the kumu on the Merrie Monarch stage as a hoopaa (chanter). At the time, he did not know it would be the last time she would participate in Merrie Monarch. Dalire died in 2014 at the age of 64.
She had faithfully participated year after year for more than four decades.
Two of her daughters — kumu Kapua Dalire-Moe and kumu Keolalaulani Dalire also will be competing at Merrie Monarch this year. Now, kumu Delaforce joins them in carrying on her legacy.
“It’s real surreal,” said Delaforce. “Having competed as a haumana (student) and then being on stage with Aunty (Dalire) as a hoopaa and now returning to the festival as a kumu. It’s like full circle. Every aspect of that, there’s different kuleana involved in it, you know. I had really good teachers. So I’m excited to share our hula.”