Organizers of the 57th annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo have announced the participating halau and judges online.
Twelve kane and 17 wahine groups from 22 halau are participating this year, representing Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Hawaii island and California. Eleven Miss Aloha Hula soloists will vie for the title.
It will be an exciting lineup, according to festival president Luana Kawelu.
Kumu hula Robert Cazimero is bringing back his Halau Na Kamalei o Lililehua, which generally competes only once every 10 years. The halau is returning five years early this year. In 2015 Halau Na Kamalei won the overall title at the 52nd Merrie Monarch Festival competition. The halau won overall in 2005 as well.
Kumu hula Mark Keali‘i Ho‘omalu is also bringing back his Academy of Hawaiian Arts from Oakland, Calif., after several years’ hiatus.
Many other top-placing and long-participating halau — including Halau Mohala ‘Ilima, under the direction of kumu Mapuana de Silva; Halau i ka Wekiu, under the direction of Karl Veto Baker and Michael Casupang; and Kawaili‘ula, under the direction of kumu hula Chinky Mahoe — are also returning.
A new halau from Hawaii island, Halau Hula Ke ‘Olu Makani o Mauna Loa, under the direction of kumu Meleana Manuel, will participate for the first time. Kumu Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin of Halau Ke Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala will bring kane to compete for the first time this year, along with her wahine.
The Merrie Monarch Festival will take place April 12-18, and kicks off with a hoolaulea Sunday morning at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, followed by an Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair and other events.
The popular Hoike, the free exhibition night of hula and other folk dances from around the Pacific, is scheduled for Wednesday evening at Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium.
The Miss Aloha Hula competition is scheduled for the evening of April 16 at the stadium, group kahiko competition on April 17 and group auana competition on April 18, followed by the announcement of winners and award presentations.
Merrie Monarch judges this year include Maelia Loebenstein Carter, Ainsley Halemanu, Kawaikapu Hewett, Nalani Kanaka‘ole Zane, Noenoelani Zuttermeister Lewis, Keali‘i Reichel and Holoua Stender.
Ticket requests were accepted by traditional mail, starting Dec. 2, and the festival is already sold out. Merrie Monarch T-shirts are available for order by calling 935-9168.