Hula Finds New Alloy

By Lokken, Dean | Dance Magazine, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Hula Finds New Alloy


Lokken, Dean, Dance Magazine


THE BIG ISLAND, Hawaii--For Dance Alloy, artistic director Mark Taylor had a tough assignment: Leave Pittsburgh for the frigid month of January and live on Hawaii's sunsplashed Big Island, learning to hula.

The result of the company's labors--a cross-cultural performance using six Dance Alloy performers and ten performers from Halau Hula Ka No'eau, a hula school in Waimea, Hawaii--will be seen April 26 at Pittsburgh's Byham Theater. It premiered in January in Hawaii.

Taylor's interest in creating an entirely new work that merges modern dance with an art form practiced for centuries by Hawaiians brought him together with Michael Pili Pang, founder and kuma hula, or teacher, of the Waimea school. Their joint work, which both say was a 50/50 endeavor, is based on the kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant. The chant, more than 2,300 lines long, was passed on from generation to generation of Islanders and never written down until the late 1800s (Hawaiians missionaries arrived more than a century ago).

"We have taken 125 lines and divided them into four sections, basically dealing with creation and evolution," says Pang, who has studied with some of the best hula chanters and teachers in Hawaii. The kumulipo lacks a recognizable melody, since whoever performed it over the years provided whatever melody they wanted. So Pang wrote one for `Ike: Body of Knowledge, as the new work is called. `Ike is Hawaiian for "body of knowledge," or "to see, know, or feel." The sections of the thirty-minute piece begin with the formation of the world out of cosmic dust and end with the creation of plant forms on land, an environment ready for the arrival of humans.

Pang says writing the melody was his biggest challenge. He turned to some traditional Hawaiian instruments, like split bamboo sticks and seashells, to reproduce the sounds of wind and surf.

"The next biggest challenge was for the dancers themselves," he says. "Both sides had to learn someone else's music and their language of dance."

To prepare the visiting Dance Alloy company for its artistic adventure, the Hawaiian hosts started with a four-day study of Hawaiian customs, behavior, and poetry. University of Hawaii lecturers and elders from the local community explained the intricacies of Hawaiian culture. The dancers made a trip to Kilauea volcano, currently the most active one in the islands, to explore the importance that Hawaiians place on the life-giving force of the volcanoes that created the mid-Pacific islands. And they made an excursion to the beach to experience the ebb and flow of the ocean.

Pang's halau demonstrated for the Dance Alloy performers how hula dancers make their own instruments and fashion their costumes from leaves and other items they find in the forest. …

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