There is a rain particular to Maui that rises sometimes at twilight. Together with the wind, comes a gentle rain creating a golden red mist across the landscape. The ancient Hawaiian name for this rain is ‘ulalena.
I walked into the Maui Theatre
a couple weeks ago knowing little about ‘Ulalena: A Story of Hawaii’s People
. I left knowing this.
‘Ulalena. What it is: A theatrical interpretation of the history of Hawaii from the cultural point of view of the Hawaiians.
‘Ulalena. What it is not: A lu’au experience.
The creativity is unbounded--from giant fish on sticks paraded through the audience by cast members to super-size, moving screens projecting original works of art.
And, yet, the set is seemingly simple, adding to the allure and special effect of the show and transporting me into a dreamy state. Whatever was transpiring on the streets of Lahaina, however glorious the setting sun, I had no idea and didn’t care. What helped were the no video/no photography mandates. Instead of peering through a camera’s viewfinder, or framing a video, I sat mesmerized, swept up in the story of creation, transformation and re-birth.
On the 'Ulalena blog
, cast member Maya Iida puts it this way, “From sky to earth, from past to present, from us to you.”
Vene Chun, who plays the High Chief (Ali’i), says, “’Ulalena is a feeling, a story that can only be understood by the heart.”
There are characters you’d recognize--Pele, goddess of the volcano, Hina, goddess of the moon, Maui, the trickster demi-god, and Mo’o, the lizard goddess. And there are yards of flowing fabric.
But there is little dialogue. The vocals are mostly chant and song. An off-stage narrator introduces some scenes. Three live musicians played 51 different musical instruments, in a balcony stage left, mostly percussions—a show in and of themselves.
What goes on behind-the-scenes—or, perhaps, more accurately with the technology—helps set this show head and shoulders above community theater and lu’au performances.
Four built-in elevators. One turntable built into the floor. Moveable screens supporting image projections. Twenty-four moving lights. Twelve spotlights on moving tracks. Two high-powered projectors. Two high-tech sound systems with 8 speakers. Up to 16 automated channels. State-of-the-art wireless microphones and in-ear monitors.
Please don’t get the impression that this is all about technology. Remember those fish on sticks. The actors—their voices, their presence, the things they do with their bodies. I could see influences of hula kahiko, ballet and Cirque de Soleil.
‘Ulalena is an artistic experience, playing on the highs of humor and the lows of despair. I laughed. I cried. And I walked out of the Maui Theater asking my friend Audrey, “‘Ulalena? Uh, how come I’ve never seen this before?”