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'ulalena - a dance spectacle about Hawai'i history and culture

by Robert Abrams
September 14, 2007
Maui Theatre
878 Front Street
Lahaina (Maui), HI 96761
877-688-4800
www.ulalena.com
'ulalena is an ensemble show that tells episodes from Hawaiian history with a unique artistic vision. The show is part dance and part spectacle.

From the opening scrim with Hawaiian petroglyphs projected on it, to the Hawaiian creation chant, and live drumming, the audience knew they were in for something different. And while the show is unique to its place, it also has elements in common with other shows. The large stylized fish paraded around the auditorium reminded me of The Lion King. The aerial work was reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. The forest scene in which dancers pounded bamboo pole drums sounded a little like Stomp.

'ulalena compares favorably with such top level shows. It is not at quite the same level as such shows, but it is good enough that people who have seen such shows will thoroughly enjoy 'ulalena.

I went to 'ulalena expecting it to be a dance show. The dancers had a strong attack. Much of the choreography was abstracted from functional motions, which fit the theme of the show. The aerial work made good use of the vertical space. Some of the choreography was what one might expect in Hawaii, but many of the numbers were Modern. (Many people, I am sure, think of only beaches and Hula when they think of Hawaii. While I am all in favor of beaches and Hula, there is much more to Hawaii than beaches and Hula, just as there is much more to 'ulalena than ethnic dance.)

This is a big special effects laden show that gives its target audience an enriched experience of Hawaii using a variety of styles of dance and music, all of which are well performed. Most of the audience was wild for it. I enjoyed it but was not blown away. Of course, I had recently been injured from horseback riding and was on vicodin, so I can't say what my reaction would have been if I had been drug free. I am not the sort of New Yorker who thinks civilization ends at the Hudson River, but New York does set a very high standard for dance.

Personally, I would prefer a show that had a tighter story, less special effects and more dance, but this might not improve the show for its target audience, who are probably not primarily New York dance enthusiasts. I actually think the show does a good job of introducing dance to people who might not otherwise go to a dance show. 'ulalena has been running for eight years, so they are doing something right. On the other hand, they are open to experimenting with elements of the show, so while they don't need to overhaul the show (don't fix what ain't broke, as they say), I think there is a way that 'ulalena could experiment in a way that would enhance the show and the larger dance community, while extending the show's role as an ambassador for Hawaii. I think that the cast of 'ulalena is good enough that top choreographers should consider setting short dances on the 'ulalena company. For instance, I would love to see what a choreographer like Jennifer Muller would do with Hawaiian themes, movement styles and dancers. One or two of such a fusion repertory could be presented each night during the "Producer's Package" after the main show is over. Hawaiian and tourist audiences would get to see more dance from more choreographers. This would also give die hard 'ulalena fans an extra reason to see the show twice (when I make it back to Maui I would certainly consider seeing 'ulalena again). These new works would then also be in the repertory of the visiting choreographers' home companies, bringing a little Hawaiian culture to the rest of the world.

The "Producer's Package", by the way, is a slightly higher priced option (than the regular $49.50 per person tickets) that gets you better seats, a free drink and a talkback after the show with the cast. Given the very high quality of 'ulalena, I think the $69.50 per person Producer's Package tickets are a good value. If you are on Maui and are into dance, don't spend all your time snorkeling: make sure to see 'ulalena.



Cast:
ARICAYOS, IOKEPA
AU, CHARLES
BACALSO, STEVEN
BALINO, GERMAINE
BOONE, NARA
CERRITO, VANESSA
CHUNG, HOLLY
DE LA NUX, SHAWNA
EBANA, BENJAMIN
EMATA, GERILYN
FRANCO-FRANCIS, MAKALAN
GOEAS-SOUZA, LIZA-ANN
GOODS III, MOSES
ICHIMARU, NAJONA
JOSEPH, CHRISTINE
KOLLARS, KALAPANA
KRIEG, LIA
KUKONA III, CARLSON
LANGLEY, TIFFANY
MURRAY, HEATHER
NISHIHARA-BREITBACH, KIM
REYES, ROY
SAGAPOLUTELE, MARK
SELLERS JR, THOMAS
SIMCOCK, BRIAN
TEVAGA, JANICE
BACALSO-MURRAY, LEIMOMI
CHUN, LYNETTE
DAVIS, CYNDI
FIGUEROA, NATASHA
KONG, CHERLYN
LAKE-FARM, NAOMI
TORRES, ANDREA
YAMAGATA, CORA

Music:
HARDWICK, MATTHEW
JEROME, VANIA
NATIVIDAD, ANTHONY
SPEZZACATENA, NICOLA
FLOYD, DOUG
SIGNOR, JOHN
VARDE, DAVE

Contributors:
PARENT,Roger
DIGNARD, Martin
VENNE, PIERRETTE
MASSICOTTE, Robert
LACHANCE, Lucie
BOIVIN, Luc
CUSSON,Michel
FOVARGUE, BRETT
PASTENA. Vincent
FRANCOEUR, Rogé
RUEL, Nicolas
MORIN, LOUIS-PIERRE
DESJARDINS, Pierre
DIGNARD, Martin
CLICHE, Richard

Executive Producer
Line Producer
Director
Scenographer
Choreographer
Composer
Composer
Sound Designer
Costumes
Props
Photographer
Projections
Still Imagery
Projections Imagery
Sound Technician

Technical staff:
ALBERING, NILES
BERNAT, TODD
KEYES, SATYADHARMA
NELSON, NICHOLAS
PRUITT, ADAM
THRONSON, INGRID
WALSH, DANIEL
KELLY, MARSHA
WALKER, CARO
FUMAR, LORI

Stage Hand
ALBERING, NILES
BERNAT, TODD
KEYES, SATYADHARMA
NELSON, NICHOLAS
PRUITT, ADAM
THRONSON, INGRID
WALSH, DANIEL
KELLY, MARSHA
WALKER, CARO
FUMAR, LORI

ALBERING, NILES Stage Hand
BERNAT, TODD Sound operator
KEYES, SATYADHARMA Lights Operator
NELSON, NICHOLAS Stage Hand
PRUITT, ADAM Crew Chief
THRONSON, INGRID Automation
WALSH, DANIEL Stage Manager
KELLY, MARSHA Wardrobe
WALKER, CARO Show Manager
FUMAR, LORI Stage Hand
'ulalena - Hina - Goddess in the Moon

'ulalena - Hina - Goddess in the Moon

Photo © & courtesy of Robie Price


'ulalena - Western dance comes to Hawai'i

'ulalena - Western dance comes to Hawai'i

Photo © & courtesy of Robie Price


'ulalena - Maui, the trickster god

'ulalena - Maui, the trickster god

Photo © & courtesy of Robie Price


'ulalena - Mo'o, lizard goddess, guarding a waterfall

'ulalena - Mo'o, lizard goddess, guarding a waterfall

Photo © & courtesy of Robie Price

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