Twosomes the theme for halau's debut benefit
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Keawe and Tracie Lopes, kumu hula of Ka La 'Onohi Mai o Ha'eha'e, met a decade ago in a Hawaiian language class at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.
Or so he said.
"We actually met 15 years ago, at Lunalilo Home, when we were both performing for the kupuna there," she said. "He was just out of high school; I was one year in college. It wasn't till Waimanalo, 11 years ago, that we kind of connected."
The romantic sparks flared at that Waimanalo event, after which the twosome wound up at a karaoke bar, where Tracie sang 'I Get Lost in Your Eyes.' "
"I said, 'Oh, that's my love,' " said Keawe. The hula couple wed in 1999.
Now they're mounting an ambitious fundraiser, "Ku'u Ha'eha'e 2006," an evening of 'ohana and cultural traditions, Sunday at the Hawai'i Theatre. It's a benefit for their Kalihi-based halau, where they teach side by side.
Indeed, togetherness has very much been a part of their lives.
"When we were practicing a chant in 1995 for our bachelor's degree from the university, she was wearing a bracelet with my name on it, which was inscribed 'Moku O Keawe,' which her mother (Karen Keawehawai'i) had given her," he said. "I knew we'd wind up together."
The bracelet, said Tracie, was inscribed not with her name, as is customary for most who treasure the golden wristbands. The inscription she chose was the title of the song that helped her become Miss Aloha Hula at the Merrie Monarch Festival in 1994.
"The balance has been good," Tracie said about their collaborative efforts. "We are both teachers. ... He takes the lead on the music side, I take the lead on my first love, hula. We complement each other; he taught one kahiko, I taught another; he wrote the oli, I made up the tune. It's been like a tag team."
She works in recruitment and retention with the UH Hawaiian studies program after having taught high-schoolers at Kalani and Saint Louis; he is a Hawaiian language instructor.
Now they're exploring their show-producing style, side by side, focusing on an 'ohana theme. Most halau do a ho'ike; "that comes later," said Tracie. "This one's about family — and people that have had a special role in our lives."
The idea — Tracie's — was to corral husbands and wives who worked together, Keawe said. "And we have four such couples," said Tracie.
They are Nalani and Nahono Badua Fernandes, Haili'opua and Kaliko Baker, Noelani and Pono Guerrero, and Natalie (Ai) and 'Iolani Kamauu. Others among the participants have enriched their lives: Tracie's mom (and Keawe's mother-in-law) Karen Keawehawai'i, aunt Johnette Keawehawai'i, "uncle" Jerry Santos, and kumu hula Kimo Alama Keaulana and O'Brian Eselu.
"Ku'u Ha'eha'e" loosely means "my desire" or "my beginnings," since ha'eha'e is the easternmost point of the Hawaiian Islands, where the sun rises. "That would mean we're at our eastern point, our beginning, as we strive to get to a place where we're happy, and not to forget those people and things that came before. Since Hawaiian words have layers, ha'eha'e also means desire," said Keawe.
A hidden desire is Tracie's dream of returning to the Merrie Monarch, to have her students compete as she did, amid the pageantry and hoopla in Hilo.
"It's a dream that's still a few years off, but we'll go when we're ready," said Tracie. "It's something I did when I was young and had the chance; it's something I'd like to have my students experience, with hard work."
Their halau, organized in August and still in the infancy stage, boasts about 40 students, from ages 3 to 60-plus. But the dancers have learned 15 or 16 numbers already. Classes are held Tuesdays and Saturdays — in between the couple's daytime jobs and full-time role as parents of two keiki.
Hula has helped define and structure their everyday life, said Keawe.
"We try to research songs and use this information to learn little lessons in life," he said. With his zeal for things Hawaiian, he is the researcher of the duo.
He said, for example, that most people know "Hi'ilawe" as a Gabby Pahinui ki ho'alu song. "But there's a very important message in the song, and the story goes that there's going to be gossip and hearsay, and how you respond shows how you are. One line says, 'I'm like mist in the mountains, and I will not succumb to the risks of careless hearsay.' We teach students to rise above such challenges in life, to rise above gossip."
They both cherish the relationships of family, friends and former teachers, particularly in assembling their guest acts.
"Everyone we wanted said they'd do it, happily," said Tracie.
"I think it's because of our success in networking that we're able to do so much," said Keawe.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.