Male hula dancers are so prominent in Hawaii that it can be hard to believe there are places where the idea is considered odd, even effeminate. That's one of the issues that Keo Woolford addresses in his one-man semi-autobiographical show, "I-land."
On stage: 8 p.m. Friday
Place: Leeward Community College Theatre
Tickets: $23; $19 students, seniors and military
Call: 455-0385 or 483-7123; or visit EticketHawaii.com
The expatriate islander is returning home for the weekend after living and working for extended periods in London, New York and Los Angeles, and he says that the level of ignorance in those cities regarding hula is "staggering."
"Los Angeles has probably been exposed to it the most of the three (cities), but there are still people who know little or nothing about hula and the Hawaiian culture, even in the most scholarly of environments," he said Monday via e-mail, between performances somewhere on the mainland en route to a Friday night one-nighter at Leeward Community College. "The frequency of surprise over the fact that men dance hula is staggering."
He's hoping that his show, and a documentary he co-produced with director Lisette Flanary -- "Na Kamalei: Men of Hula" -- will raise awareness.
Press materials describe "I-land" as being "at once hilarious, defiant and transcendent" as it follows Woolford's experiences as an actor, hula dancer and a member of Brownskin, Hawaii's top local "boy band" of the late 1990s. Fans who saw Brownskin open for Christina Aguilera in 2000 probably didn't know that Woolford was also a member of kumu hula Robert Cazimero's Halau Na Kamalei, or that he had started dancing in high school.
Brownskin was a success in Hawaii, but then Woolford received a six-month booking as the lead in the London Palladium's production of "The King and I." The six-month engagement was extended by a year and Woolford stayed in London for "close to 400 shows"; a second Brownskin album was never completed.
His boy-band days behind him, Woolford settled in New York to study acting. There he received the training and acquired the technical skills that have allowed him to develop "I-land" into a multimedia production that combines hula with hip-hop, and informal "talk story" monologues with video projections. It also addresses issues of personal identity and cultural stereotypes.
As times, Woolford admits, he does it with some attitude. "I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder as a proud hula dancer. When I see or hear people who disregard the sacredness and seriousness and spirituality and history of hula, it bothers me." Other well-deserving targets are people who don't respect hula "as a viable art form," and Hawaii residents who "frivolously and casually take it for granted."
Woolford adds that he is also fighting racial and sexual stereotypes. "There is a connotation of a man dancing hula. There is a connotation of what it means to be a man. There are also stereotypes of the hula and Hawaiian culture in general ... and even though (this show) is just my opinion, it's one that I think many people -- not only people from Hawaii -- but other (people) who have had their culture bastardized or misrepresented (can) relate to."
But how will "I-land" play for a crowd that already knows men dance hula, and who accept and appreciate the distinctive dancing style of Cazimero and Halau Na Kamalei?
"I am actually very nervous about bringing the show home. It's an homage to my parents, to my kumu (Cazimero) and hula brothers, to my friends and family, and a celebration of my home, because it's a story that I think many of us local folks share. I hope they will catch the jokes ... and appreciate the nuances and the honor that I give to things that are indicative of the experience of growing up in Hawaii."