Tony Conjugacion honors women of song and dance
By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer
Tony Conjugacion, kumu hula and entertainer, approached some of the women he considers prime candidates and assembled them for his fifth "Kamau Pono" ("to persevere properly") concert, an annual event that benefits his hula school, Halau Na Wainohia.
It was partly an effort to honor women he felt fit this edition's theme, "Na Wahine o ka Mele, Na Wahine o ka Hula (Women of Song, Women of Dance)."
And partly, it arises from the ongoing mission of any entertainer: to put on a good show.
"I don't want to put people through a tedious halau repertoire when they paid money to be entertained," Conjugacion said with a laugh. "And that's because I have sat through halau recitals, and while they're very cute I'd be wondering, 'Why did I pay $25?'"
With this roster of singers and dancers, he's got that concern covered. Most are veterans and established crowd-pleasers, but Conjugacion seems especially happy to be including one.
"Marlene Sai would be the one, since she has only resurfaced in the entertainment industry in recent times, and I'm sure her fans are glad of it," he said, citing the Sept. 14 "Kulia Na Hoku" show at the Royal Hawaiian Monarch Room.
Sai said she was eager to do this show, acknowledging that until her recent retirement from her "real job" heading the Kamehameha Schools' alumni office, time for performing gigs had run short. The industry barely resembles the one in which she launched her career, said Sai, 60.
"The whole concept of what entertainment is today has changed," she said. "The steady gigs are few and far between. Oftentimes people get the misconception that it's easy and it's all glory."
Sai, and other singers in the cast of what Conjugacion describes as a fully scripted program, has been paired with a dancer who will perform hula, pairings that Conjugacion insists on keeping a surprise to be unveiled tonight. But Sai dropped a heavy hint: In addition to her signature tune "Kainoa," she said, "I will be singing a lot of Beamer songs." (Hmmm. Could she mean that Gaye Beamer will be the hula half of her segment?)
And Conjugacion himself let it slip that Karen Keawehawai'i will be the appointed crooner for Aloha Dalire, an award-winning kumu hula who was herself the first Miss Aloha Hula soloist at the Merrie Monarch Festival, an honor won in turn by each of her three daughters. Keawehawai'i and Dalire, he said, each expressed delight at their partnership.
Dalire, no longer accustomed to being tapped for performance, was thrilled, until she heard the date.
"She goes, 'Oh, I've got to fly out to Las Vegas that weekend, so is it OK if I send my daughters?'" Conjugacion recalled. "And I said, 'No ... I want you, or nothing. They've not paid their dues yet, and you have.'"
So Dalire asked to be put early in the program so she can make a mad dash from the wings to the airport.
"Melveen has to do that, too!" Conjugacion said, a reference to diva Melveen Leed. "So they can carpool."
The idea of this program, he said, is to spotlight women who carry on the traditions of today's major hula legacies, including Coline Aiu, Leilani Alama, Noenoelani Zuttermeister and Leina'ala Kalama Heine among them.
Hula is the primary dance vehicle for women of the Islands, Conjugacion said, but the local male stage landscape is more varied. That's why in the 2003 program (to be titled "Na Kane o ka Mele, Na Kane o ka Hula," naturally) will include modern variations from Tau Dance Theater as well as from Conjugacion himself, known for his turn on Broadway as well as for hula. Look for a range of singers, too.
"Bill Kaiwa asked me, 'How come you got no men on your program?'" Conjugacion said. "I told him, 'Next year, Uncle. Next year. And you'll be there.'"