By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
This Saturday night, the keiki version of the Merrie Monarch Festival is heading to the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium.
Ten halau from around the Big Island, and five soloists, are headlining Hilo’s first keiki hula competition in a decade, in a prelude to the Merrie Monarch Jubilee celebration next spring.
Doors open at 4 p.m. Saturday at the stadium, and the competition begins at 5 p.m.
Kumu hula involved with the E Malama Mau I Ka Hula Festival say the return of the children’s competition is long overdue.
“I think it’s good. Something for the kids to look forward to,” said kumu Glenn Vasconcellos, one of the judges. The other judges are Holoua Stender, Sandra Lee and Leolani Pratt Ha‘o.
The late Dottie Thompson, longtime executive director of the Merrie Monarch Festival, started the keiki hula festival in 1981, and it ran for 22 years in conjunction with the Hawaii County Fair before taking a sabbatical in 2003. Merrie Monarch Festival President Luana Kawelu is reviving the festival to honor Thompson’s memory. Hawaii County is assisting.
The halau come from all around the island, including Hilo, Volcano, Kailua-Kona, Waimea and Puna.
Competing halau are split into three divisions by grade — Elementary, Intermediate and High School. There will be 10 halau performing a total of 18 dances, and every fourth hula will be a solo entrant.
The rules are a little simpler than the Merrie Monarch Festival competition. There’s no fact sheet requirement. It’s strictly hula ‘auana, there are no kane division entrants, and performances will be done on the floor of the stadium, instead of an elevated stage. Ticket prices are just $5, and they are still available in advance from participating halau, the Merrie Monarch office (935-9168) or at the gate.
“For my keiki, the Elementary Division is (doing) a fun and fast number. It’s called ‘Ke ‘Ai Nei,’” said kumu Emery Aceret of Halau Na Pua ‘O Uluhaimalama. “It’s a fun set for the children.”
The intermediate group is doing another fast mele, “Hawai‘i No E Ka ‘Oi,” written by Harry Na‘ope Sr., and soloist Janie Ramelb-Sadorra is dancing “Ku‘u Pua Lehua.”
“It fits her becuase she’s a young girl and turning into a beautiful flower, like the lehua flower,” Aceret said.
Aceret knows it’s normal for the girls to be nervous going into a competition, but at the same time he has to make the rehearsals fun so as not to turn them away from the hula. It’s a fine line.
“You don’t want to be too strict, because it’s going to turn them off,” Aceret said. “Hula’s all about fun.”
The girls of Halau Hula O Kahikilaulani are dancing in the elementary and high school divisions, and Bailey Mahuna, 11, will represent the halau as a soloist, said kumu Nahoku Gaspang.
“I’m very happy that Luana brought it back. It’s something for the kids to do,” Gaspang said Monday. “Especially in Hilo; Hilo doesn’t have much for the kids to do.”
Like all of the hard-working kumu hula in the competition, Gaspang hopes the group does well, but she is reminded by the late Rae Fonseca that it’s not all about winning and losing.
“Kumu always said, it’s not why we do hula,” Gaspang said. “It’s not why we learn hula.”
“Just go for it,” Gaspang said. “I always try to tell them there’s no crying. If you don’t place, that’s OK. It’s not why we do hula.”
After the competition is finished, there will be an intermission and three exhibition dances. Ku‘uhiapo Jeong, who brings down the hale with Halau Ka Ua Kani Lehua, will do a solo kane hula, followed by group performances by the kumu hula and by the judges. The presentation of awards will cap off the night.
Email Peter Sur at firstname.lastname@example.org.