By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A packed house at Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium was treated to the living history of the Merrie Monarch Festival at Wednesday night’s Ho‘ike.
Two Royal Courts made their entrance at 6 p.m. First was the mo‘i kane and mo‘i wahine of the festival, Tom Chong Poy as King David Kalakaua and Bernadine Alohalani Kealoha as Queen Esther Kapi‘olani. They were followed by an actual royal, Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, who was escorted into the stadium by members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha.
During his opening pule, or prayer, The Rev. Joe Camacho announced that longtime Merrie Monarch chaplain Father George DeCosta was in Honolulu undergoing triple-bypass heart surgery.
“I ask that you keep him in your pules,” Camacho said.
Hilo’s Halau O Kekuhi performed, as they have in every Ho‘ike since 1997, under the direction of kumu hula Nalani Kanaka‘ole, with dancers who performed in the 1970s and 1980s along with current haumana, or students. Their hula kahiko, or ancient hula, was a chant and dance written and choreographed by Edith Kanaka‘ole about Madame Pele’s pursuit of Kamapua‘a, the pig-god, creating the hill, Kauku, near Akaka Falls.
The halau’s ‘auana, or modern hula, featured Lena Machado’s “Kamalani O Keaukaha” and Aunty Edith’s iconic “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai.”
The first ever Merrie Monarch winners, Hau‘oli Hula Maidens featured several dancers from their 1971 and 1973 triumphs, some of whom are now in their 80s. They danced under the direction of Twyla Mendez, daughter of the late kumu hula Leilani Sharpe Mendez.
Their songs, “A Ka La‘i Au I Kuhiau” and “Ku‘u Hoaloha” were played by Johnny Lum Ho’s musicians — Darren Benitez, Kuana Torres Kahele, Mark Yamanaka, Bert Naihe and Eddy Atkins.
One Hau‘oli Hula Maiden, Florence Iwalani Koanui did a kolohe hula with suggestive gestures and facial expressions that elicited laughter and applause from the crowd.
“It was wonderful to come back here after all these years,” Koanui said afterwards. Koanui danced for Aunty Pauline Kekahuna and Aunty Vickie I’i Rodrigues as well as Leilani Sharpe Mendez, and said she still goes to Japan to perform.
Five generations of ‘Ilima Sweethearts graced the stage and danced to the famous “‘Ilima Medley,” dedicated to the memories of Uncle George Na‘ope and Aunty Dottie Thompson, the Merrie Monarch Festival’s spiritual father and mother. The ‘Ilima Hula Studio, under the direction of sisters Louise and Luka Kaleiki, swept all the wahine group categories in 1974 and the following year, won the ‘auana and tied with Hau‘oli Hula Studio in the kahiko. An ‘Ilima Sweetheart, Leimomi Maria, was Miss Aloha Hula 1975. Louise Kaleiki’s daughter, Lani-Girl Kaleiki-AhLo.
Na Pualei O Likolehua, the 1977 and 1978 overall wahine winners, danced to a medley of “Pua Hone” and “I Kona.” Kumu hula Leina‘ala Kalama Heine stood up and danced during the “ha‘ina” of “Pua Hone.”
The men got their turn to shine when Robert Cazimero’s Na Kamalei, who won the first kane division competition in 1976, performed. Their kahiko featured men in different colored malos doing a dance whose movements approximated those of a shark slicing through the waves.
One of the highlights of the evening came during Na Kamalei’s ‘auana performance. Cazimero sat alone at the piano and sang a medley of “Pua Lililehua,” “Ia ‘Oe E Ka La” and “Waika.” During “Waika,” Cazimero left the piano, walked up the ramp to the stage and sang the final part of the song a cappella with the halau providing four-part harmony. He received a standing ovation at the song’s conclusion.
“You know, I just wanted to be closer to the halau,” Cazimero said afterwards. “I was too far away. I loved it. I’m really on a high right now. I’m so glad to have this opportunity to be with my dancers. It’s historic, and we’re taking advantage of every minute of it.”
Also historic was the return of Waimapuna, 26 years after the death of kumu hula Darrell Lupenui, and the audience showed its appreciation with a huge round of applause as they were announced. That paled compared to the reaction the halau received dancing to a ma‘i chant — a chant written in praise of genitals, in this case, those of the Lupenui. The dancers included kumu hula Chinky Mahoe and Louis “Moon” Kauakahi of the Makaha Sons.
“Ladies and gentlemen, they still have it!” exclaimed Ho‘ike narrator Jacqueline Leilani “Skylark” Rossetti as Waimapuna exited the stage.
The festival’s first Miss Hula, Aloha Dalire, danced solo to “Kamakani Ka‘ili Aloha,” followed by a procession of Miss Aloha Hulas taking the stage with all dancing together.
The evening concluded with a concert featuring many kumu hula who are also recording artists, including Cazimero, Manu Boyd, Keali‘i Reichel, Natalie Ai Kamauu, Napua Greig, Johnny Lum Ho, Chinky Mahoe, and the duo Michael Casupang and Karl Veto Baker, aka The Kumus.
The house band for the concert segment included Kauakahi, plus the trio Ho‘okena: Glen Smith, Chris Kamaka and Horace Dudoit. They played Kauakahi’s arrangement of “Hilo One” and, not surprisingly, sounded like the Makaha Sons.
During Boyd’s performance of “Ala Pikake,” Cazimero walked onto the stage and the audience applauded. Although there was an open microphone next to Boyd and a duet was an enticing possibility, Cazimero — who is Boyd’s kumu hula — opted instead to dance.
“He’s my teacher of 35 years,” Boyd said. “I wrote the song many years ago and he loves the song. In our halau, we say, ‘Don’t waste a song.’ If you’ve got a good song and you want to get up and dance, do it. He is my teacher and I am his student and that was a wonderful moment.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.