One of the prominent themes in hula kahiko, or ancient hula, is Pele, the goddess of fire who lives in Kilauea Volcano’s Halema‘uma‘u crater.
Emmy-winning videographer Mick Kalber and Tropical Visions Video present the world premiere of “VolcanoScapes… Dancing with the Goddess,” at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Palace Theater.
The release of the two-hour documentary, which melds volcano footage and hula, is timed for Merrie Monarch week. The premiere itself isn’t an official Merrie Monarch Festival event, but Kalber hopes the subject matter attracts a hula-hungry crowd.
The usual Palace ticket prices will apply and DVDs and Blu-ray discs will be available at the showings for $24.95 and $29.95, respectively.
Kalber described the program as the culmination of his three decades of documenting Kilauea.
“In 2007, we were hired by the Land Rover Corporation to do four mini-documentaries for their website. And one of their concepts of those was called ‘Spirit of Pele’,” he said. “I liked the concept of doing something for the volcano that was heartfelt and not the B.S. that you see on TV all of the time. I was just so sick of working on shows that make the volcano out to be the most dangerous and the most horrible and to be feared, all of which is crap. And it drives me crazy because nobody ever tells the real story about the volcano and the beauty of it and what the people who live here know it to be.”
Kalber used hula and the legend of Pele to help drive the narrative — which is largely visual, since there is no voice-over narration.
“The hula people do that in a real fashion with their hula and their mele,” he said. “It’s literal. And a lot of people, such as scientists and photographers and artists and glassblowers and poets and writers do it in a more figurative fashion.
“What I wanted to do was to tell the story in the voices of those people who are intimate with Pele, just have these people talk about their thoughts and their experiences and their feelings of working and playing around the volcano. And not have it narrated and not tell people what to think.”
Kekuhi Keali‘ikanaka‘oleohaililani, a kumu hula, dancer, singer, author and granddaughter of the late Hawaiian icon Edith Kanaka‘ole, served as the project’s cultural advisor. Kalber described her input as “brilliant.”
“One of my concepts was to use hula as a background to the show and it is a background to the show. But an original concept I had was a hula primer, the hula basics. You know, what is mele? What is ‘oli?” said Kalber. “When I talked to her, instead of giving me a primer, she gives me a master’s thesis. … At one point, I said to her, ‘Kekuhi, we have to dumb this down a little bit. We have to make it so that people in Des Moines, Iowa, will understand what you are talking about.’ And she thought about it and she looked at me and she said, ‘Why?’ And I went, ‘Um, I don’t know.’”
The Kanaka‘ole family’s Halau O Kekuhi didn’t participate. The halau is part of the nonprofit Edith Kanaka‘ole Foundation and doesn’t do commercial projects. The hula kahiko segments and bonus material, including the primer Kalber envisioned, feature kumu hula Ehulani Stephany and Halau Hula Ka Makani Hali ‘Ala O Puna.
“The day we shot up in the national park, we shot before sunrise to after sunset and they worked tirelessly,” he said. “I don’t know how they were able to pull that off. It was hard enough for me doing a three-camera shoot. It was definitely an experience.”
As the pre-eminent Kilauea video documentarian — he calls himself a “volcanographer” — Kalber said he’s drawn to the volcano “like a moth to a flame.”
“You’re looking at what I call the birth of the earth and what Kekuhi calls ‘birth,’” he said. “It’s something that you can’t take your eyes off. It’s elemental. It’s the way the planet was formed. It’s happened here since Day 1. The caveman looked at this; the dinosaurs were around when it was happening. Way before then, it was happening. There’s something inexplicable about the volcano.
“I just connected with it. I could not stop documenting it; I could not stop going out and shooting it. It’s an obsession. I’m compelled to document it.”
On the web: www.volcanoscapes.com.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.