Hawaiian Dancers Persevere, Prove Strength Through Annual Ho’ike

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Rich deep voices rippled out in song, call and response. Colorful cotton dresses swished and swayed. Bare, smooth pectorals and shoulders glinted under bright lights. And bare feet danced, ran, danced over a stage littered with the occasional plastic leaf fallen from a bushy headdress or bracelet, like a sign of changing seasons. “Changing of Time,” or Huli Au, was the theme of the Hawaiian Ensemble’s third annual ho’ike, which took place in the Presentation Theatre on April 9 and depicted through song and dance the history of Hawaii and its modernization.

The event was the labor of love of Mahe Lum, senior and one of the founders of the Hawaiian Ensemble in 2006, and its theme was also a change from the performances before it. “In years past, we focused Ho’ike around mythological stories in order to exibit the values and traditions of the Hawaiian culture,” said Lum. “This Ho’ike revealed the real political and social issues that the native Hawaiians have faced over time. We expose their struggle, but highlight their strength.”

To do this, a combination of Hawaiian chants and dancing–by men, as well as the requisite women in grass skirts–were employed, most of them the fruit of hard work by the Hawaiian Ensemble. The dances included traditional Hawaiian myths of goddesses like Pele, as well as depictions of history, such as an enactment of Captain Cook’s arrival in the Bahamas and a fusion of Old World waltz and native Hawaiian hula, performed to the lilting strains of freshman Kyle O’Brien’s violin and musician Sam Ikea on piano. All of the songs except for the beginning and finale were composed by the members of the club, as was all of the choreography. The songs and chants were mostly performed by USF alumna and co-founder of the Hawaiian Ensemble Jenna Waipa, backed up by Kainoa of Menlo College’s Hawaii Club and Sam Ikea of the Hawaiian band 309th Ave. The event’s narration, a thread of story and history that wound throughout the performances to hold them together, was performed by Waipa and Lum.

While the creative side of the ho’ike was an effort by the club, the event itself was held together by funding from outside of USF, which was yet another difference from the past, where, Lum said, “We had always received funding from Superfund.” Because of this, the group could no longer afford to host the ho’ike in the McLaren Complex, where until now a stage had been installed expressly for the performance so that audiences could eat dinner and enjoy the dance at the same time. This year, however, the members of the Hawaiian Ensemble were denied funding because of their outstanding Superfund loan from Ho’ike 2008. This caused a rocky road for the production of Huli Au.

“The most frustrating part of the planning process was that we were not given a straight answer from Superfund regarding the effect of our outstanding loan on this year’s application. We sought counsel from the Superfund committee, who encouraged us that showing strong potential and committed effort to pay back the loan could more likely lead to being funded this year, especially if the committee agreed on the value of the program,” Lum said. “We were advised that “depending on the committee, they may or may not” decide to fund us because of the loan.” After a 4-week ordeal, Lum said, Superfund finally granted the Hawaiian Ensemble $0.

Ultimately, Lum said, things worked out, and this year’s show was completely funded by a donation made by Ali’i Pauahi Hawaiian Civic Club and any revenue generated by Ho’ike ticket sales. Despite this happy ending, Lum still feels that the process she had to go to could have bene avoided.

“These bylaws should have been revealed to me straightforward and at the very beginning of the application process,” Lum said. “The result was my scrambling to find a more affordable venue and other alternatives, which compromised the tradition of Ho’ike.” While the Superfund committee was “very supportive of our program and very helpful,” she added, “their lack of communication and clarity almost led to no Ho’ike this year.”

However, ultimately all the scrambling, the struggle, and the stress paid off. And, after all, this effort and perseverance is part of the tradition. Ho’ike can also be translated as “a test or examination,” said Lum. “Our dancers have been training for the whole year, learning different facets of the Hawaiian tradition, attending  our weekly workshops, performing what they’ve learned for the larger community– and so it is fitting that the culminating event should be a test to the dancers’ selves and their mentors that they are prepared enough to not only learn hula but also pass their knowledge to someone else by performing it.”

The main goal that Huli Au sought to achieve, Lum said, was to show viewers a truer portrait of Hawaii. “Not many people know of the critical points of Hawaiian history– only that Hawaii is a beautiful place to vacation, surf, and retire. We hope to express to the audience the importance of looking beyond stereotypes and to understand the past in order to move forward,” she said.

This knowledge was imparted to the audience–mostly family members and friends–who showed their appreciation through applause. Visiting San Francisco State student Alexis Rivera, who came to the event with a friend of Waipa’s, said that until then she knew close to nothing about Hawaiian culture, and thus found Huli Au enlightening and entertaining.

“I liked it,” she said. “It was beautiful, how they did interpretive dance. I kind of want to learn the moves now.”

As Lum said, “It was a very inspiring performance [and a] very ambitious storyline.”

Huli Au was also an ambitious undertaking, and as such, Lum said that, like any show it could have been better. She personally felt that if she had stuck to being simply a coordinator, not a performer as well, the event would have been organized better.

Also, she said, “I feel that with one more day, our performance could be the closest to perfect. Unfortunately, we only had the morning of [the performance] to rehearse in the theater with the lights, sounds, and full cast and crew– all due to our limited funding,” she said. “Nevertheless, our dancers did very well, and the main thing is that they understood the story behind their dances. If you do not know what you are dancing about, then you should not be dancing it.”

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