December 07, 2010

The Ressurection of KAHEKILI

Artistic director Hokulani Holt created a stage production which tells the story of the great Hawaiian chief, Kahekili, who ruled most of the Hawaiian island chain in the 1700‘s.

Searching for a way to describe the show, she coined it a “hula drama”. While most people outside Hawaii might think of hula in terms of something they once saw at a luau party or in an old movie, this show let the public experience real hula, educating them in the process.

Audiences also got to see the members of her and other halau perform
authentic ceremonies and kahiko, and recite ancient chants. Speaking and singing in the native language they also acted out how the Hawaiians in Kahekili’s time lived before contact with the outside world. And then she went even further, to illustrate how they may have felt emotionally, how they may have thought and interacted with their king and with their environment, during times of war and times of peace.

This story gave a glimpse into the lives of the chiefs and chiefesses who were revered as gods, and the great Kahekili who raged war to gain political power. Precise attention was given to the costumes and weaponry, and the entire production was enhanced by live theatrical sound by Donald Nako’oka using a
top-o'-the-line Midas XL8 digital sound console. This baby probably cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 ... a very respectable neighborhood.

As for me, the lighting console I used was an older and more modest
ETC Express, which you could probably buy for 1/100th the price of the XL8. But for this type of show, it was all that was needed.

Hokulani Holt, a Master Kumu Hula, also tapped other kumu like Keali’i Reichel and Pali Ahue to help with the authenticity of the dance and chants. A kumu hula is a highly respected teacher, a revered master in the art of hula. The discipline of hula is far more than just dancing. It is the study of the Hawaiian traditions, language and history. It is the heart of the Hawaiian culture. Achieving the status of a kumu hula is a recognition that is bestowed by his or her own personal kumu, a blessing given as a privilege to one who has earned the respect of peers. At one point, as many as ten kumu were involved with this production, an unprecedented amount.
Early on, the National Endowment for the Arts chose the Kahekili production as one of the grant recipients for their American Masterpieces Dance Initiative which allowed the entire cast to travel to New York City for a performance in Battery Park. That was followed by periodic tours to theaters throughout the Hawaiian islands and the west coast. In November of 2008, we flew to Europe to perform at two major events, the Internationales Tanzfestival in Essen, Germany and the International Tanzwochen in Neuss. The Tanzfestival was presented annually by the esteemed European choreographer of modern dance, Pina Bausch. I previously blogged about my experience in Cologne.
This year the show was brought in the other direction... three shows in Tokyo at JCB Hall in Tokyo Dome City.

The top floor of the JCB Hall is at ground level, so you ride escalators down four levels below ground to get to the main floor.
The Japanese tech crews are always first rate and I was pleased to see that each member of the lighting company had a copy of my lighting design plot. I arrived at 9:30 am and we had the entire rig hung, colored and focused by 1pm, just in time for rehearsal.
When the show begins, the houselights go to black… then comes the sound of howling wind and the rumbling of thunder. Misty clouds move across a cyclorama. Narrator Moses Goods appears from the blackness and begins to describe Kahekili, said to be a brawny athlete of nearly 300 pounds who would dare others to follow him as he would leap into the sea from cliffs hundreds of feet high. Over time, he had one entire half of his body tattooed completely black. Such a sight made him an imposing warrior to behold and magnified his mana. As the sacred chief of Maui, he was regarded as equal to a god. Objects he touched or used were burned afterwards to prevent his divine powers from being transferred or stolen.
He trained his Maui warriors to be ferocious in war and his conquests allowed him to rule for three decades.

I made use of the cyclorama to project images, moving clouds, a forest and evening stars as background. Red shadows of the fighting warriors filled the cyc during a war scene. I also uplit Kahekili as he stood on his riser and projected a moving, glowing aura around him.

The Kahekili production has been put away for the time being. He may rise again but there are new projects in the mind of Hokulani Holt that are being born. As cultural director of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, this kumu is at the forefront of the re-emergence of the Hawaiian culture. I can only hope to be involved in the next project.

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