Keali'i's journey


POSTED: Friday, April 17, 2009

HILO » You would think for someone like Keali'i Reichel, one of Hawaii's more notable musical exports, who has performed at venues like Carnegie Hall, that preparing his halau to dance at the Merrie Monarch Festival shouldn't be too difficult.


;[Preview]    Winner: Cherissa Kane

A dancer with Halau Ke‘alaokamaile captured the title of Miss Aloha Hula 2009 on Thursday night in Hilo at the 46th Merrie Monarch Festival with 1,064 points.


[ Kahiko | Auana ]


Think again. Before rehearsing with his Miss Aloha Hula contestant, Cherissa Kane, at Edith Kanakaole Stadium yesterday afternoon, Reichel, while warm and approachable, was a tad nervous about his Halau Ke'alaokamaile's debut this year at the prestigious hula competition.

His dancers' performances at Merrie Monarch will also honor the memory of the woman who always wanted to see Reichel and the halau dance at the annual festival.

“;My mother's sister, Auntie Leona Stephens, was like my halau's sergeant-at-arms,”; Reichel said. “;She was with me since the inception of the halau, like a mother to me. She was the person who tied on the pahu and lei to the dancers. And it seemed every year or so, Auntie would ask me, 'So when are you going to do Merrie Monarch?'

“;Unfortunately, the last time she asked and I finally agreed to do it, she died before seeing us here this year. So not only are we dedicating our performances to her, we're also doing Merrie Monarch for ourselves, too,”; he said.


Merrie Monarch images and audio.

In preparing for the hula competition, Reichel admits it's been an intense growing experience for both himself and his wahine dancers.

“;Taking in the number of people who will be watching this on television and the Internet worldwide, this is a real high-profile thing for us. For me it was a conscious choice to do this because it's different from what I've done in my career so far.

“;Because the halau and I have decided to go back to competitive dancing, I've had to scale back my career,”; Reichel said. “;I haven't released an album in some time now. The dancing has taken its place, and it's all for my students.”;

It's been an interesting journey so far, he said, as preparing for Merrie Monarch is different from getting ready for a concert.

“;The focus and the presentation is what's different. In a concert setting you can be a little more forgiving because it's a stage presentation and you play to the audience in front of you. Here, because the people and the TV cameras pretty much can see all around us, we've had to relearn dancing hula to take in the whole perspective. I'm coming in with the best of my dancers, and we'll perform as best as we can at this time.”;

Reichel is hoping to make a good impression this first go-round, enough so that he and his halau will return to Merrie Monarch..

“;I've enjoyed the challenge,”; he said. “;Right now I just want to be certain that we're good for at least this one year, but I plan to come back for the next few years, if Merrie Monarch will have us. We want to make sure that we cross our t's and dot our i's and everything is in place organically, culturally and technically.”;