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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

Music Scene
Nona Beamer's 1948 show revisited

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Maile Beamer Loo, left, was adopted by Nona Beamer, right. The two will take part in a concert Saturday that re-creates a program performed at the Honolulu Academy of Arts by the elder Beamer 53 years ago as a prelude to a North American performance tour.

. . .

Na Mele concert

Featuring Nona Beamer, Maile Beamer Loo, family and friends

7:30 p.m. Saturday

Honolulu Academy of Arts theater


532-8768, 532-8700

Next in the series:

• Nov. 17, the Peter Moon Band
• Nov. 24, the Moe Keale Quartet

Nona Beamer, a beloved advocate of Hawaiian storytelling and dance, and matriarch of a family of entertainers that includes sons Keola and Kapono Beamer, is retracing her hula steps Saturday night at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Beamer, 78, will grace the academy stage for the first time in 53 years — with a hanai daughter in tow.

"This will be deja vu," she said of the Na Mele concert that involves Maile Beamer Loo, her adopted daughter and a kumu hula in her own right. Loo has tracked down the slate of mele performed by her mom that originally kicked off an 18-month tour of the continental 48 states and Mexico and Canada in 1948. The 18-month road trip, nicknamed the "Begonia Tour," took a troupe led by Beamer to cities large and small well before the Hawai'i Visitors Bureau (now, with Convention also tucked into the monicker) saw the value of promoting the Islands with Hawaiian culture.

"So the Beamer hula tradition continues," said Loo, 35, who was adopted by the veteran performer-educator in 1999 and thereby is preserving the noted Beamer-style that accentuates storytelling.

"She's the daughter I never had," said Beamer, who epitomizes the Hawaiian tutu with a beguiling smile and a captivating dance to share.

Beamer recalls the original Hawaiian evening vividly.

"It was classy, in the courtyard, with that lovely stage, with shadows of the beautiful hala tree on the wall," she said. (Saturday's show, however, is in the indoor academy theater).

Beamer hopes to create a few sparks again, even if she admits that her batteries occasionally need charging. Even as a seasoned performer, she's skittish about reviving her classic pig dance.

"I think the people will have to help me with the oinks," Beamer said about the number, favored by children over the decades. "My oink has gotten a little weak."

Beamer, who had taught at Kamehameha Schools for nearly 40 years, has been advising Loo about the accuracy and details of the retrospective program. "She was big in computer studies in school, I was in culture; never the twain shall meet," said Beamer. Till recently, anyway.

"Maile wanted to know the Beamer repertoire so she could teach it. She took her master's at Stanford in artificial intelligence; now, why would this sweet little Hawaiian-Chinese girl teach artificial intelligence? It turned out she was a brain, coming home not only to start up a computer company but also do hula."

Beamer formally adopted Loo in October 1999, at a family celebration at Ho'omaluhia in Kane'ohe. Loo's natural father was alive at the time, but too ill to attend; her mother had died earlier.

Loo said a thrush lingered during the adoption event; "it hung around me, hopping around, while my biological family was watching. It was kind of a blessing of sorts; I think it was my popo (Chinese for grandmother)," said Loo.

Beamer originally was motivated to launch the 1948 tour because she saw badly staged hula shows — "freak-show status," she said — in Colorado. She made it a mission to right the wrong and to share her artistry and her knowledge of song and dance abroad.

So for 18 months, the group traveled in a hearse they named Begonia, hitting college and university towns to spread the gospel. The original troubadors include her brother, Keola; her cousin, Mahi; and hula students Shirley Moss, Nani Puha, Lehua Dang, Thelma Enos, Virginia Horio, Manu Napoleon Long and Blanche Teves.

She's lost contact with the dancers and hopes a few, if willing and able, can join the kanikapila. (Call Loo at 285-8684.)

Loo's halau is called Halau Hula o Kaho'oilina Aloha (a name bestowed by Beamer, which means "the legacy of love"). "I knew they were going to do a lot of the numbers we did years ago," said Beamer. "It's kind of like passing down the baton to a whole new generation of dancers."

Loo, a 1984 Kamehameha graduate, is equally charged up.

"I had studied Beamer-style hula but not under Nona Beamer," she said. "I learned from one of her students." But they had met when Loo was still in school.

"We were reunited when she was featured in the Kamehameha Song Contest in 1994," said Loo. "I felt I wanted to continue my kahiko training with her, so I basically wrote to her and asked, and she said, sure. That's how the bonding started, as teacher-student."

Why this particular style? "I fell in love with the beauty in the storytelling," said Loo. "Her hula are so descriptive; we learned the meaning of the story in the dance, and consequently learned how to use hands, faces, bodies to tell the tales. I never wanted to learn from anyone else."

Beamer said she was impressed by Loo's "meticulous attention to detail and research; she works on pronunciation, the storytelling. She tries to get the big picture, with all the right feelings. I don't think I've ever worked as hard as she's working. Really, she's the daughter I've always wanted."

Beamer is happy about the hanai relationship.

"I see traces of my (younger) self in her and that's very gratifying," she said. "That makes me proud. I never realized I would find such contentment in my waning years. This whole project, to recreate the 1948 show, has enriched me immeasurably. Darling, I'm 78, but I don't feel it. Maybe 60. Or even 50.

"Aside from arthritis, my general health is OK. But who cares? I have help with the yard work in Puna, where I've lived for years. I feel on top of the world; I get to tour with Keola and his (wife) Moana, do their concerts together, but I worry a little about this national time of sadness. I told Keola we all need to make a conscientious effort to put aloha on the highest plane."

Beamer, her own kind of Hawaiian woman, shared two secrets in her life:

• She also has a hanai son, Kaliko Beamer Trapp, "who has added immeasurably to my life," she said. He teaches earth sciences, in Hawaiian, at Nawahiokalaniopu'u at Kea'au on the Big Island, and Beamer said she met him at earlier concerts in California.

"He was this haole kid, with blond hair and blue eyes, performing with Tongans, Fijians, Samoans, even chanting with the Hawaiians," said Beamer. "He is related to the famous Von Trapp family, maybe five generations down, from 'The Sound of Music.' You know, he wants brown children, so I need to find him a sweetie, because he deserves his happiness."

"When he spoke to me in the most beautiful Hawaiian, I cried. I said, 'Who are you?' and I gave him one of the Beamer scholarships at Kamehameha (he got the one for a community person, not the ones for six seniors in Hawai'i) about six years ago. Beamer's scholarships are for $500 per student; she hopes to enlarge the grant to $1,000 each.

"I want to build up the funds to $70,000, so we can afford to give larger scholarships, but we still have a way to go; we're at $39,000 now." Contributions can be sent to her at Beamer Hawaiiana, P.O. Box 1245, Pahoa, HI 96778.

• She also has a man in her life. "I now live with this wonderful man, who's 41; I moved in when he was ill. No, there's no marriage, and some of my family don't approve. But I asked Keola what he thought and he said, 'Mom, whatever makes you happy.' And I am very, very happy."