Friday, August 27, 2004

Lion dancers Jian Hong Chen and Raymond Sze-To practice their steps at the gym for the Second Hawaii World Invitational Lion Kings Competition being held at Blaisdell Arena on Sunday.

Lions meet

2nd Hawaii World Invitational Lion Kings Competition

Where: Blaisdell Arena

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $15 to $55

Info: 591-2211 or ticketmaster.com

From near and far they come -- seven teams representing Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and, from the United States, San Francisco and two from right here in Honolulu.

By the time Sunday evening rolls around at the Blaisdell Arena, the answer to the following query will be known to all -- who is the true Lion King of them all?

And we're not talking about a Disney animated movie here. Or a repeat of May's competition coordinated by the local Gee Yung International Martial Arts Dragon and Lion Dance Association.

Jeffrey Lam of the Hawaii Lion Dragon and Martial Arts Association has been making it a point that what's being showcased this Sunday is not just strictly the acrobatic routines Honolulu audiences saw three months ago that lion dancers performed on the ascending jongs, or poles.

The Second Hawaii World Invitational Lion Kings Competition will also feature imaginative floor work by the teams, which also emphasizes more traditional characterization and use of props, plus an appearance by Singapore's World Dragon Champion. Using a black-lit backdrop, nine people will put a fluorescent dragon supported by handheld poles through its various undulations.

"We always invite the best teams," Lam said, "and as people watch the competition, they'll be seeing the cream of the crop.

Lion dancers practice their moves at the Sun Yat Sen school gym for the Second Hawaii World Invitational Lion Kings Competition.

"To become the Lion King means the team has to be good in both traditional and pole dancing, with attention put on characterization."

That includes the tightly choreographed floor work of the Hong Kong team that has a lion getting drunk on a large jar of wine. Besides the usual kicks, rolls and jumps, the two-man team gives the lion a distinctive, playful character with coordinated blinks of the eyes and the wiggling of the stubby tail.

The Taiwanese team also includes some impressive high split-leg kicks in its routine that includes a ramped platform and the cautious stalking of a crab it ultimately stomps on and eats, much like your everyday curious cat.

Lam's association will contribute four teams to the competition, two younger ones doing floor routines and two older and more experienced on the challenging jongs. His self-described A-team of Ian Cablay and Chris Nguyen will hopefully give the other Asian and San Francisco teams a run for their money.

Lam says that his charges, ranging from ages 9 to 17, need at least two to three years experience in the association to be comfortable in executing these routines, whether dancing in costume or playing the floor drum, cymbals and gong in careful synchronization with the dancers.

Scoring categories are broken down on how well each respective team conveys the dance's rich history and mythology. Out of a possible high of 10 points, up to 3 points are rewarded for difficulty of the dance (with varying fractions of a point deducted for the severity of any stumble and fall), 2 points for character animation, 2 points for how well the music and dance is in sync, and up to half-a-point each for appearance, props and head-tail coordination.

One person from each of the competition's participating teams will act as judges.

"Since our school is only 16 years old," Lam said, "putting together this competition helps raise the bar for us, where we can follow the examples of excellence given by our guest teams.

Sunday's program will feature 14 routines total, and for this second time around, Lam's school has paid particular attention on improving the teams' presentation and teamwork.

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