Tonight, the men take center stage at E Kanikapila Kakou (EKK) on Kauai when O’Brian Eselu’s hula halau known as Ke Kai o Kahiki perform. Some may recognize O’Brian from his gig as director of the Polynesian show at Paradise Cove Luau on Oahu. That, or maybe his award as “Most Promising Artist” at the 1998 Na Hoku music awards. Or, maybe even from his Waianae (Oahu) halau’s performances at the annual hula festival held on Hawaii (Big) Island known as Merrie Monarch, where they always manage to dance their way to an armload of awards, including top honors the past two years in a row.
Tonight should prove to be, in a word, spectacular. Unfortunately, I will miss it, because I will be attending the annual volunteer banquet for Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge at the Hukilau Lanai. Good thing, then, I’ll be attending this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival in late April. And good thing I attended last week’s EKK.
Coming off another spectacular performance--Kumu Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett—the week before, a local hula troupe thrilled the 500-strong audience at EKK last Monday. Kumu Lena’ala Pavao Jardin opened with a resonating oli in Hawaiian. As is the custom, she recognized ke akua, God, and her own kumu, Ray Fonseca. “I hope you will see his [Ray’s] love for hula through me,” she said.
Then, in a chicken-skin moment, wahine Jayna Shaffer danced a solo kahiko hula wearing a full kapa skirt made by Kauai teacher and Hawaiian cultural advisor Sabra Kauka.
Then a stage full of boys sang and danced. Then, girls. Then, wahine. Then, little girls.
What remains in my memory is how well this kumu is perpetuating hula with the young people. That, and, my gosh, the costume changes—each dance, a wardrobe change.
Between songs—while dancers tore off one costume and donned another—Lena’ala talked story. And, as you’ve heard me share of late, this is what sets Hawaiian musical and dance performances apart. This is what audience members will enjoy at EKK that they won’t at a more formal hula performance, say, at a luau.
Before Lena’ala’s daughter Breeze took the stage to dance to “Nani Kauai,” Lena’ala shared her concerns—as a kumu and a mother—for entering her child in Miss Keiki Hula back in 2009. “She’s a little hard on the feet,” Lena’ala said of her daughter. She worried whether her daughter was too young. She wondered if she’d made a mistake in entering her own daughter in this competition.
So, Lena’ala prayed to her mother, “Please, mom, pick up her feet and let her glide.”
After Breeze’s performance, the girl rushed to her mother’s side, sobbing, “Mom, I am so sorry.”
“Why?” Lena’ala asked.
“Mom, I couldn’t feel the stage.”
Lena’ala looked to the heavens, “Thank you, Mom,” she said when Breeze was awarded Miss Keiki Hula 2009.
The very next year, another of Lena’ala’s students won Miss Keiki Hula 2010.
As one set of dancers walked off the stage and another entered, Lena’ala kept things light when she said, “Who needs zumba when there’s hula?” And more serious when, later, she said, “Hula is discipline and dedication.”
Tonight at EKK, with O’Brian Eselu and Ke Kai o Kahiki, the hits, as they say, will just keep on coming. This EKK stuff? It’s real Hawaii—Kauai at its very best.