Sally Kaleohano, forewoman at the Edith Kanaka'ole All-Purpose Tennis Stadium, said one of two transformers failed at about 6:45 p.m. -- halfway through the third performance, by the men of Halau Hula O Hokulani. She said Hawaiian Telephone supplied three generators to kick start the lights at 8:17 p.m.
During the outage four kumu hula -- Pua Kanaka'ole Kanahele, Leina'ala Heine and festival judges Robert Cazimero and Victoria Holt-Takamine -- mounted a dimly lit stage to lead the audience in "E Ala E" (sunrise chant), "Ekolu Mea Nui" (hymn) and "Imua" (school spirit song).
But the outage failed to dim the luster of the overall best performance by the 5-year-old halau, Ka Pa Hula O Kauanoe O Wa'ahila. Nor did the lights-out halt kumu hula Chinky Mahoe's drive for a second straight men's overall title. During this 20th anniversary of his debut at Merrie Monarch -- as a dancer for festival co-founder and judge George Naope -- Mahoe's Halau Hula O kawaili'ula presented a delightful original hula about visiting Kahoolawe. He wrote the song about a five-day visit he and his 11 male dancers made to the island in January.
"You go onto the island and you're just transformed because it's so spiritual," Mahoe said. "The island just welcomes you, so I figured it's time to give back to the island, to let it grow and let it generate a new spirit."
Kumu hula Mae Ulalia Loebenstein, who turns 86 in May, choreographed two exquisite dances for her Ka Pa Hula O Kauanoe O Wa'ahila, about interisland voyages of the ship Kilauea, captained by her forebearer Thomas Long. The halau had never placed first in group competition.
"In my heart I thought we did so well," Loebenstein said. "We looked good. I thought we might place somewhere, but when we didn't take fourth and we didn't take third, then auwe ... But I went up (to receive the awards) with more happiness in me. I thought maybe now the Lord said, 'It's your turn.' "
The most breathtaking performance was by Keolalaulani Halau 'Olapa O Laka, which presented a stunning 'auana dance. The hula celebrated the Ka'ena shores of Oahu, whose ocean waters were reflected in lyrical choreography, shimmering turquoise costumery and uplifting grace. The performance scored an event-high 591 points.