FAR FROM critical eyes, Patrick Makuakane has been free to pursue his mission to change the way Hawaii and the world, view the hula. The founder of the San-Francisco based hula halau Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu (the many feathered wreaths at the summit, held in high esteem) mixes traditional hula with modern music and he'll demonstrate what that looks like when his program, "The Natives are Restless," returns to Hawaii Theatre today through Sunday.
A San Francisco halauBy Charlene Anne Rico
presents a view of the dance
tinged with controversy
The troupe performed to nearly sold-out houses the last time they performed here in March 2000.
"(Last year) we were really nervous about coming home," he said. "We didn't know what people were going to expect, but we were very enthusiastically received."
The first half of the show tells the story of the Hawaiian people through the missionary period.
"It's very confrontational and provocative. It is something that can be hard to watch. With the metaphorical approach that I was taking, I wasn't sure if people were going to understand, but they did. Everyone needs to know this story."
The second half of the program comprises traditional hula danced to modern music. It is a full production with theater lighting, scene changes and numerous costumes. It is perhaps this segment that draws the most criticism from traditionalists who want to keep the dance pure.
Makuakane admits to taking artistic liberties but maintains a foundation of hula. He said, "Everything revolves around hula."
Nevertheless, at the turn of a new century, he said he cannot ignore his influences. He says that he is inspired by music in all forms. From opera to pop to techno, he loves it all. He actually used to be a DJ.
"The best thing for me is that I am able to meld two opposites (modern music and traditional hula) and make it work. There is so much depth and meaning and to be able to dance to that -- it's so fascinating," he said. "I think that many are caught up with only dancing hula to certain songs, but there's a lot of other ways to express ourselves as dancers. I don't want to limit myself."
He continues to study traditional hula and received an Irvine Fellowship in Dance awarded for his "significant artistic accomplishment in the field of dance." He comes back to Oahu about once a month to study with Mae Kline, a Hawaiian cultural expert.
"I can't go too far to the edge with out having a really strong anchor," he said. "There is integrity in the (hula) movements and it is something powerful that resonates in the people. It's interesting when people can really appreciate that."
Makuakane, who grew up in Waimanalo, began dancing at 13 years old. It was the '70s, the start of the Hawaiian Renaissance, and he was searching for "a way to define myself as a Hawaiian."
Hula became the vehicle to bring him closer to his culture and helped him to discover his "Hawaiian soul."
"I loved dancing, it tapped into this deeper connection to who I was and it woke me as a Hawaiian."
From the beginning, Makuakane knew he wanted to be a teacher. His love for hula began when he saw Robert Cazimero's halau at Andrew's Amphitheater at University of Hawaii-Manoa.
"It was so masculine but so graceful. There was something about it that made me think, 'that's what I want to do and that's who I want to dance for.' "
Makuakane had been dancing at Saint Louis with John Lake but at age 14 moved over to Cazimero's halau. He studied with Cazimero until he was 23. Cazimero's experiments with modern music sparked Makuakane's creativity.
"I was inspired by him and his work," he said. "(Cazimero) really revolutionized hula and made it more accessible to younger people. We were on the forefront of dancing for men."
Makuakane eventually found his way to San Francisco, Calif., where he attended San Francisco State University and studied physical education, but he never stopped dancing. He graduated in 1989.
"When I got to San Francisco, there were already people who knew who I was because they had seen the shows at the Royal Hawaiian. Everyone was asking me to teach so it was like there was already a class ready to go."
Makuakane was surprised by the number of Hawaiians in San Francisco. He said, "It was like tapping into a Polynesian underground. The best part about this network of Hawaiians, is that it takes the edge off of the homesickness, it's a connection to home."
He now teaches his hula classes in a rented auditorium across the street from his home.
"My family is so thrilled and very supportive of what I do. Some of the stuff I do is really out there but I think they're accustomed to it by now."
Concert time: Today and tomorrow, 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m.
Natives Are Restless
Place: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.
Cost: $20 to $30 reserved
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