The Hawaiian Scene: Grass Skirts and Dancing Geckos

By Egan, Carol | Dance Magazine, April 2006 | Go to article overview

The Hawaiian Scene: Grass Skirts and Dancing Geckos


Egan, Carol, Dance Magazine


Hawaii may be a vacation paradise, but the state is rapidly gaining a reputation for its cultural offerings, too. Among a wide range of dance attractions, hula is still the predominant style, with hundreds of halau (schools) throughout the islands. An international level festival takes place every spring in Hilo on the island of Hawaii at The Merrie Monarch Festival. Now in its 43rd year, this celebration honors King David Kalakaua, whose love for that dance form stimulated its revival during his reign from 1874 to 1891. The festival runs April 16-22; the final three days will be devoted to competitions. Visitors from around the world enjoy watching hundreds of dancers compete for awards in the Miss Aloha Hula contest and the kahiko (old) and 'auana (contemporary) styles.

Another project of note is the Hawaiian Islands Tap Dance Festival, an occasional event which takes place this November at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahalui. Featuring Lynn Dally, director of the Jazz Tap Ensemble, and Jason Samuels Smith, the festival is expected to attract tappers from both sides of the Pacific.

Hawaii's dance culture is by no means restricted to hula and tap. Every one of the state's diverse communities has its own dance company. Superb groups like Eric Wada's Okinawan ensemble, Ukwanshin Rabudan Ryuku Performing Arts Group, Kenny Endo's Taiko Ensemble, and Mary Jo Freshley's Halla Huhm Korean Dance Studio add spice to our rich dance diet.

Several ballet companies and schools also call Hawaii home. While John Landovsky's Hawaii State Ballet performs monthly at Honolulu's Ala Moana Shopping Center, Ballet Hawaii acts as both performing group and presenter, bringing major international companies to the islands. It also produced a charming Coppelia last season, importing San Francisco Ballet dancers Joan Boada and Amanda Sehull for the leads. Nutcracker season in Honolulu offers the opportunity to view four different versions, including that by Honolulu Dance Theatre, whose Hawaiian Nutcracker Ballet, set in Kalakaua's court, includes variations for dancing geckos and menehune (little people). …

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