Kellilynn Kanoelani Cockett Smith, from Halau Hula Olana, danced yesterday in the kahiko portion of the Miss Aloha Hula competition. Kumu hula are Olana and Howard A'i, of Aiea.

Shining solos

11 dancers take to the stage
in the Miss Aloha Hula contest

Merrie Monarch

HILO >> Eleven wahine dancers, the pride of their halaus, lit up Edith Kanaka'ole Tennis Stadium last night with refined grace, bold costumes and flawless performances in the first night of competition in the 41st Annual Merrie Monarch Festival.

The dancers, who came from Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Molokai, with one from Los Angeles, did not disappoint the nearly 2,000 hula fans for arguably the most difficult prize in the ancient Hawaiian dance, Miss Aloha Hula.

Jadelyn Mokihana Kalaukoa, 20, of the only Hilo halau entered, Halau O Ke Anuenue under kumu Glenn Vasconcellos, quickly set the standard with flawless rhythmic swaying, subtle arm extensions and an inviting smile during her mele, "Aia I Lehua Ko Wehi Nani," which praises the last heir of the Hawaiian monarchy, Princess Kaiulani, known as the hope of the Hawaiian people.

Kalaukoa punctuated strong, sharp movements to the beloved princess with several powerful back bends in which from a kneeling position, she lowered her back parallel to the floor, then effortlessly lifted up to continue her dance.

The only out-of-state contestant, Ka'imilani Lamorena, of Los Angeles Halau Keali'i O Nalani, danced to kahiko "He Mele Inoa No La'ieikawai," about the chiefess La'ieikawai, raised at Paliuli on the Big Island by her sorceress grandmother Waka.

Last year, Jennifer Kehaulani Oyama, of Halau Na Mamo O Pu'uanahulu, under Honolulu kumu William "Sonny" Kahakuleilehua Haunu'u Ching, took first place. This year, his dancer, Natasha Mahealani Akau, did her ka'i, or entrance, at the front of the stage, stopping adjacent to the judges to begin her chant.

The wahine and kane of Halau O Na Pua Kukui gave a yell yesterday after they danced and chanted on the rim of Halemaumau Crater in Volcanoes National Park.

Akau's dance was strong yet sensitive and seductive as her performance to the kahiko mele "Lei Hana I Ka Makani Ualau'awa" symbolized the rain, wind and place names of East Maui to describe the joy of lovemaking.

In a mottled peach skirt and solid peach blouse, Akau seemed to glide to the center of the stage, where she descended to her knees chanting, arms extended to embrace the heavens and the falling rain, followed by precise sharp movements that caused her waist-length brown hair to sway.

Bianca Keopuolani Rapu Leitel, in her third Merrie Monarch competition with Halau I Ka Wekiu, of Honolulu, wore a pale green skirt, but in place of a blouse had only several strands of thick maile lei covering her breasts while her back remained bare. The lei was pinned strategically to her skirt as the powerful dancer performed to "Na Kuahine Maile," a love story in which a man asks his sisters to attract the attention of La'ieikawai for him.

In the only solo competition of the three-day event, the dancers performed for seven judges, first in the kahiko, or ancient dance divisions, followed by the auwana, or modern rendition.

The festival continues tonight and tomorrow night with halaus competing Hula Kahiko and Hula Auana, followed by the awards ceremony.

Devynne Ellysse Kum Ung Leihokumainalani Sue, from Halau O Na Pua Kukui, danced yesterday in the kahiko portion of the Miss Aloha Hula competition. Kumu hula is Ed Collier, of Kalihi.


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