Saturday, April 14, 2012

Merrie Monarch 2012 in Hilo

Merrie Monarch week is coming to a close today in Hilo, Hawaii. It is a special time of year when residents, hula halaus (schools) and hula enthusiasts from around the world come together in the town to celebrate hula and Hawaiian meles (songs). We attended the Ho’olaule’a (music festival), at the start of Merrie Monarch week, in Hilo on Easter Day. This day is reserved for local groups and dancers that are not part of the hula competition to show off their skill.  Several halau’s, the community college in town, and a local high school performed for the crowd.

Our favorite performance, the reason we are drawn to the civic auditorium in Hilo every year are the performances by Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua led by the Kumu Hula Johnny Lum Ho. Johnny Lum Ho creates unique, multi-dimensional expressions of hula by designing the use of space with large numbers of dancers, the use of colors with varying costumes in unique combinations, the use of smell with fragrant leis adorning the dancers, the use of sound with fantastic meles and singing, and his creative and high speed hula steps.  The energy and intensity of the dance is overwhelming.  We are not alone with our love and awe of Johnny Lum Ho; the auditorium is always packed and the crowds makes their appreciation known. The prayer performed by Halau O Ka Ua Kani Lehua with visiting Japanese dancers below gave us chills down our backs and a sense of elation.

Hula that is influenced by modern dance is excluded from the Merrie Monarch competition because the festival’s strict requirements limit hula movements to those of olden days. Merrie Monarch group competitions seek to keep hula as it existed during King David Kalakaua’s reign and before by not allowing innovation in the dance and presentation. The competition classifies hula into two types, Kahiko (pre-1890) and ‘Auana (encompassing the late 1800’s era of King Kalakaua (with gowns instead of leaf skirts and musical instruments instead of ipu (gourd) drums).The rule book for Merrie Monarch competitions are 20 pages long to preserve the art.

We appreciate the value of history and maintaining a piece of Hawaiian heritage. When watching the live broadcasts of Merrie Monarch group hula competitions from our living room, the costumes and meles transport us to the 1890’s. But we also feel lucky that the annual Ho’olaule’a allows us the rich experiences of the evolving art form of hula.

More videos of the Easter event are located here.

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