Hālau O Kekuhi, A Mastery of Hawaiian Native Performance

Filled with complex and enthralling movement meant to dazzle your eyes, as well as the authentic  voices of the performers, the Hālau O Kekuhi Hawaiian dance performance at Irvine Barclay Theatre brought the audience a show enriched with culture last Saturday.

The motion of each dance step brought the audience on a journey to the rustic and natural setting of Hawaii. The whole show was expressive, immersing the audience in the dancers’ rhythms and movements. Even with the simplistic and repetitive mode of sound, the powerful and authentic beats of the music held the audience’s attention  over the hour-long show, creating a peaceful and settling atmosphere of the island nation.

The show began with music reflecting the human activities of daily life. The show consisted of four parts: the first presented the history of the volcano and the reformation of the land in history; the second was about youth; the third was about nature; while the last focused on the dancers’ connection to their roots. Each culture has its symbolic myths, like the Greeks’ Odyssey or the Hindus’ Mahabharata, and for the Hawaiians, it is the enduring rivalry between fire or volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hi’iaka.

The sisters’ travels between islands and to the north shore of the island was the focus of the second performance, which  told the lively story of youth. This dance has been passed down from one generation to the next; from grandmother, to mother, to daughter.   

After intermission, the show returned  with a slower pace and a more gentle setting that mimicked the beauty of the natural world.  The swaying movement of the plants and changing weather could be sensed through the delicate and coordinated dance.

The last part of the performance, as the master Loea Hula’s son said, “was about the culture’s connection to others and how it refocus on its own.” It honored the dancers’ navigators, experts and teachers. The consistency of the music and attractive movements allowed audience to fall through the imagination to the peaceful Hawaiian culture.

The clothing of the dancers and musicians were all handmade by the performers in indigenous form, and some of them even incorporated authentic red mud, true to the culture. The female dancers’ layered dresses were imprinted with indigenous patterns, while the male dancers’ costumes featured seven-foot-long drapery tied in the front.

Halau o Kekuhi, one of the premier Hawaiian dance companies, generously answered questions from the audience. This dance demands at least five years of training from these performers, and many of them started at the age of five to pick up these kinds of dance traditions.  The passing-on of this original skill of dance shows the inheritance of tradition by the younger generation, proving they have not let custom fade away with time.

The Barclay has hosted numerous Hawaiian performances in the past and will continue to in the future. The Kawika Kahiapo will be performing at Barclay on May 23.

More information about Hālau O Kekuhi can be found at www.edithkanakaolefoundation.org