By JOHN BURNETT and TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writers
A belated birthday present turned out to be the best one of all.
Manalani Mili Hokoana English turned 24 on Tuesday. On Thursday night, she won the title of Miss Aloha Hula 2013, and the hearts of those who saw her performances at the 50th Anniversary Merrie Monarch Festival.
“It feels amazing. I need someone to pinch me. It doesn’t feel like it’s even real; it’s like I’m dreaming,” she said afterwards, her eyes filled with tears after a big hug from her mom. “It’s a big thing; I’m the first Miss (Aloha) Hula from my halau.”
English, who dances for Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka of Kula, Maui, scored 1,057 points, and will take home a $1,000 prize, plus a Hawaiian bracelet and ipu heke, a percussion gourd. She also won the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Hawaiian Language Award.
“It feels wonderful,” said Napua Greig, who shares kumu hula duties with Kahulu Maluo. “This is something we’ve been working on for some time.”
The night essentially belonged to the Valley Isle, as Sloane Makana West of Halau Kekuaokala‘au‘ala‘iliahi took the runner-up spot with 1,042 points.
For her hula kahiko, or ancient hula, English, who’s from Waiohuli, Maui, danced to “Auhea Wale ‘Oe E Ka Ua Noe,” a mele ho‘oipoipo with a kaona, or subtext, using elements of nature and place names to describe sensual pleasures shared between a man and a woman.
Her hula ‘auana, or modern hula, was “E Pili Mai,” a song written by Peter Moon and Larry Lindsey Kimura that uses the phrase “ku‘u lei o ka po” or “my lei of the night,” as a metaphor for a sweetheart.
“They both have this peak of excitement and emotion,” said English, who will graduate in July from Kapi‘olani Community College’s radiology technician program. She said that tapping into that excitement and emotion “is something I can only do on the stage.”
Rounding out the top five are dancers from three O‘ahu halau: Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap of Hula Halau ‘O Kamuela of Kalihi and Waimanalo; Chalei Malianapuaonahala Pu‘ulei McKee of Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e of Kahauiki; and Whitney Pi‘ilani Baldwin Schneider-Furuya of Halau I Ka Wekiu of Kalihi.
It was a tight competition as only one point separated the second- and third-place finishers, and only three points separated second from fourth places.
Dunlap paid homage to King David Kalakaua in both her hula kahiko and hula ‘auana, and both proved to be crowd favorites, with applause punctuating much of her performance.
“I think she did a beautiful job as we would expect her to,” said kumu Kunewa Mook. “She pulled it off for us anyway.”
She pulled it off for the judges, as well, missing the runner-up spot by a single point.
“I would say it took my breath away,” Dunlap said of her kahiko. “I thought of the rehearsal, all the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears, and I just took that and pushed myself even more.”
Dunlap’s ‘auana was an expression of gratitude for the king who revived hula after it had been banned by missionaries and worked to preserve Hawaiian culture and arts.
“It is all about him you know,” she said.
Fourth-place finisher McKee continued the monarch-themed mele with her kahiko performance, which honored Queen Lili‘uokalani and Princess Likelike as well as Kalakaua’s brother, Prince William Pitt Leleiohokukalaho‘olewa.
Kumu Tracie Lopes said there aren’t too many mele written about the brother, “so we wanted to honor him.”
The main mele of McKee’s ‘auana, “Pikake Onaona” was written by Kaipo Hale about his dear friend, the renowned musician and kumu hula Robert Cazimero, with the beauty of the pikake blossom symbolizing their friendship.
Another of the mele perpetuates Lopes’ “hula legacy,” as it was penned by her kumu, the late O’Brien Eselu.
“It’s all about representing my legacy and really doing it to the best of my ability,” she said.
Ed Collier, kumu of fifth-place finisher Schneider-Furuya, said he was “very pleased with her performance.”
“She did it exactly the way we wanted,” he said. “I think they (the audience) enjoyed her hula.”
Twelve women between the ages of 15 and 25 competed for the hula world’s most coveted solo title. Three are from Hilo halau: Kelsey Kauluwehiokauanoe Iyo of Halau O Ke Anuenue, kumu hula Glenn Kelena Vasconcellos; Kayshlyn Keauli‘imailani Victoria “Auli‘i” De Sa of Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua, kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho; and Hokulani “Hoku” Kaiola McKeague of Halau Hula ‘O Kahikilaulani, kumu hula Nahoku Gaspang.
And even though a Hilo wahine wasn’t called to the stage when the winners were announced, the crowd didn’t let the three Hawai‘i Island performers go unnoticed, as the sound of hundreds, if not thousands, of screaming, applauding fans reverberated throughout the stadium whenever Hilo was represented on stage.
“It’s amazing. I love Hilo,” said the 19-year-old De Sa, who performed an original mele by kumu Johnny Lum Ho for her hula kahiko. The mele, “Waiholoku‘i,” was inspired by Ho’s family stories about a famous pond in Puna.
“I think she did well,” he said.
De Sa performed her ‘auana to “Ka Manu,” a mele aloha about a lover’s departure.
“He (Lum Ho) felt it would be right for me,” she said. “It’s a gentle song and a soft song. He always told me I’m a soft dancer. I love this song.”
De Sa said she felt blessed after completing her ‘auana.
“There’s no feeling better than going on stage and doing your best,” she said.
The 24-year-old Iyo said that before she reaches the stage, her head is filled with a million thoughts, but once she’s on stage, there is “complete peace.”
She danced her kahiko to “E Ho‘i Ke Aloha I Ni‘ihau,” a chant honoring Queen Kapi‘olani’s visit to Ni‘ihau.
She followed it in the hula ‘auana with a mele the late Hilo composer Helen Desha Beamer wrote for her daughter’s wedding. Kumu Glenn Kelena Vasconcellos said one song was for Beamer’s daughter, while the other was for her husband.
“The look was more Mrs. Beamer playing to her daughter,” he said.
McKeague, at 18 the youngest of the three competitors from Hilo, was beaming with excitement after her kahiko, which honored Kakuhihewa, a great chief of O‘ahu.
“It was just like an out-of-body experience,” she said. “I’ve been training for the past year, and it’s here.”
For her ‘auana, McKeague danced to “Ka Nani A ‘O Kilauea,” a mele written by Kaiolohia Smith, who became enamored of Kilauea and Halema‘uma‘u during his first visit to Hawai‘i Island.
The 50th Anniversary Merrie Monarch Festival’s hula competition continues tonight with the halau hula kahiko competition and concludes Saturday night with the halau hula ‘auana competition.
MISS ALOHA HULA 2013 TOP 5:
1. Manalani Mill Hokoana English; Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka; 1057 points (Miss Aloha Hula and OHA Hawaiian Language Award winner)
2. Sloane Makana West; Halau Kekuaokaia‘au‘ala‘iliahi; 1042 points
3. Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap; Hula Halau O Kamuela; 1041 points
4. Chalei Malianapuaonahala Pu‘ulei McKee; Ka La ‘Onohi Mai O Ha‘eha‘e; 1039 points
5. Whitney Pi‘ilani Baldwin Schneider Furuya; Halau I Ka Wekiu; 1033 points