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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:47 p.m., Thursday, April 20, 2006

Behind the scenes at the Merrie Monarch

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Features Editor

What's new on the Merrie Monarch stage? I was struck by these sights last night:

• Na Palapalai sang a cappella onstage for Miss Aloha Hula candidate Kapalai'ula Kamakaleiakawainui de Silva of Halau Mohala 'Ilima. This was arresting for two reasons: Kumu hula Mapuana de Silva usually isn't one to break new ground, and the musicians usually perform all but anonymously, down in the musical pit at the rear of the stage. To bring them onstage, kumu de Silva had to take the risk that their unplugged performance might not come off — it takes strong voices to fill this cavernous, high-ceilinged place. But she made a good choice: Placing the musicians so close to the dancer, and leaving them unamplified, leant a lovely, relaxed party hula air to this auana performance. Kumu de Silva (yes, she's Kapalai'ula's mom) stood with the band, beaming, throughout.

• Two small things popped up in the dances of different halau. Several soloists skipped the kaholo (the characteristic, arms-out vamp that fills in between verses), instead pausing in an expressive position until the next verse began. Less successfully to my eyes, the choreography of several dances included a move that can only be called twirling — not the classic three-quarter turn or the "around the island" vamp, but a one-footed pivot that just doesn't look like hula to me. (But I admit that I'm little more than a party hula wanna-be.)

• In costuming, trends included strapless, princess-line dresses of classy simplicity for auana, often in satin or velvet, contrasting colored underskirts peeking out from under wider overskirts in both kahiko and auana and, in color, green, particularly a shade I'm tempted to call Martha Stewart green — the hue of a fresh spring lettuce.

• Among the hot topics in Hilo this week has been flowers: whether there'd be any in the aftermath of the long, rainy winter. This is important because faux flowers are not allowed in competition at Merrie Monarch and because the halau are required to employ flowers appropriate to the dance and to list the major adornments they will employ in advance in the detailed reports they provide for the judges. During Miss Aloha Hula, there was a huge amount of lehua — that being a flower that grows like a weed in Hilo — as well as the usual palapalai fern and maile. But there were also the elaborate floral hairpieces you expect in auana.