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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

Dance Scene
E Ho'i Mai hula fest hits decade mark

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Puluelo Park, a kumu hula, remembers the day she was asked for her thoughts, not on how hula was going out to the world, but on the world coming home to hula.

At the other end of the phone was Paulie Jennings, the organizer and mother hen for E Ho'i Mai I Ka Piko Hula, the World Invitational Hula Festival that is celebrating its 10th anniversary beginning Thursday. Park was clear on the concept right away.

"I thought it was a marvelous thing she was doing," Park enthused. "When you bring the world in to Hawai'i, I thought, 'This is awesome ... this should grow."

The festival (its Hawaiian name means "return to the source of hula") has survived its first decade of life. Some would say it's thrived, but — perhaps not surprisingly — it has gained prestige mostly outside the Islands. Jennings has struggled every year locally seeking financial backers to underwrite the event.

Meanwhile, in Japan, a noncompetitive festival paying tribute to E Ho'i Mai is set for March 10 in Tokyo. Yasunari Ishimura, a promoter who has represented E Ho'i Mai and other festivals in Japan, is organizing the event and already has hula halau representing Guam and Germany signed on.

In Japan, hula is big business. Last year's competition got a major story in Hula Le'a, a glossy magazine published in Japan to advertise the country's lucrative hula instruction industry. Japanese students pay top money to study with the best-trained teachers there as well as with visiting kumu from Hawai'i.

The 2001 festival, like the previous editions, is issuing a lifetime achievement award to a prominent figure in the hula world. Park, one of Jennings' original guiding lights, was selected for the honor.

The Sept. 11 attacks caused participants hailing from Switzerland and France to withdraw from competition, Jennings said. But the festival still will include dancers from American Samoa, South Korea, Germany, Japan, Guam and Iran, as well as several Hawai'i halau and one from Chicago.

The competition includes kane and wahine halau as well as groups combining men and women dancers; there also are solo men and women divisions. Contestants from Hawai'i are judged in a separate category from visiting dancers.

Part of the mission of E Ho'i Mai is educating everyone on hula skills and protocols at workshops preceding the event (one class this year emphasizes the tradition of seeking permission from a hula teacher if his or her choreography is to be used). On Sunday, the annual Ho'olana Hula workshop will drill everyone on the official festival chant and elicit their thoughts on how to stage the opening ceremony for the following Thursday.

"By the time the people get on the stage on Thursday, they know each other very well," she said.

The education continues during the event. Twenty-one judges issue marks in seven categories, Jennings said.

"By the time they're done, the score sheets are this thick," she added, holding thumb and index finger nearly two inches apart. "And then they're put together and given to the teacher, and that becomes their hula bible.

"They come back in a year or two, and you can see the improvement."

Cooperation is key, she said. She recalled one year when the lei worn by visiting dancers were falling apart before their performance. Another halau removed their own maile following their dance and helped their colleagues weave it into their own garlands to improve their appearance.

"I've seen greediness," Park said. "And truthfully, that's not how it should be. It should be their love for what they do."

This is part of the guidance shaping E Ho'i Mai in its early days, Jennings said. Among the other masters consulted: Hoakalei Kamau'u, Nona Beamer, Irmgard Aluli, George Holokai and George Naope.

"We asked them, what don't you like about competition?" Jennings recalled. "And what they said, we tried not to do, and what they liked, that's what we did."

The message from the masters:

"Not all knowledge comes from one school," Jennings quoted, reciting a common proverb from hula wisdom. "But also: You have to learn the protocol of the culture before you take one step."