‘Through hula we will heal’: Halau will perform in memory of Kalama Heine

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Hula lost a beloved kumu when Leina‘ala Kalama Heine died last year.

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Hula lost a beloved kumu when Leina‘ala Kalama Heine died last year.

Celebrated beyond hula circles for her live solo performances with the Brothers Cazimero, the kumu of the award-winning halau Na Pualei O Likolehua known as “Ala” devoted her life to teaching Hawaiian dance and culture to several generations of students.

A familiar face at the Merrie Monarch Festival as kumu and judge, she committed to bring her halau, established in 1976, to this year’s hula competition before her death Sept. 9 at age 75.

As it turns out, Na Pualei O Likolehua will compete in the wahine group competition, but not before Heine’s daughter, Niuli‘i Heine, who assumed the reins of the halau, called Merrie Monarch President Luana Kawelu in October to say the halau wouldn’t be performing.

“She said, ‘Don’t make that decision right now,’” Heine recalled. “Think about it, one month, two months, whatever it takes. She told me about her experience. She said, ‘My mom (Merrie Monarch co-founder Dorothy Thompson) passed away two weeks before the festival (in 2010). And I had to just step in and do it.’ She said bringing the halau for the 40th anniversary was a good thing, something we needed to do. She said, ‘Come celebrate your mom’s life and her legacy. Come share her hula.’

“And so I thought about it. I came to the girls and talked about it. I kind of knew I wanted to do it but I didn’t know how they felt. And they were in agreement.

“It is our 40th anniversary this year, so my decision to take the halau is to celebrate our 40th and also to share her legacy is special. What makes it so special is my two sisters and my mom’s three grandchildren are back in the halau and dancing in the line.”

The sisters she refers to are Auli‘i Hirahara and Heali‘i Heine. The legendary kumu’s grandchildren are: Maluhia Hirahara, Auli‘i’s daughter; Ke‘ala Heine, the daughter of their brother, Kalama Heine; and Ko‘ala Matsuoka, the granddaughter of Ala’s sister, Rose Lum, but a hanai grandchild of the kumu.

They’ll be part of a line of 35 dancers, the maximum allowed on the Merrie Monarch stage, ranging in age from 13, the youngest permitted under competition rules, to 55, the oldest allowed to dance in the competition.

“How I’m choosing the line is excellence, and excellence is in the eyes of your kumu,” Heine said. “We’re going there to share my mother’s excellence in hula. If we win, we win, but I’m not concerned with that part of it. We’re there to share excellence and we’re there with aloha and love. And come what may, I told them, ‘You are a winner as long as you give it your best. And your best is 100 percent in my eyes, not in your eyes.’”

The mele Na Pualei will perform for hula kahiko (ancient hula) and hula ‘auana (modern hula), Heine said, pay homage to her mother, whom she described as “a very strong, independent person that was an innovator way beyond her time.”

“Haumea” is the mele for the halau’s hula kahiko Friday. It comes from the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian chant of creation and genealogy.

“She is the mother of all mothers,” Heine said. “She is the mother of all generations. It is very special for the halau itself as we consider my mother to be Haumea, a woman who is deeply rooted in the culture and one we can go to with the thirst for knowledge.

“Because we have my sisters and my mother’s grandchildren in the line, it’s her legacy that’s continuing on, and we also have three sets of mothers and daughters who will be dancing. It is so Haumea, the mother of all mothers, that continues on from generation to generation.”

Na Pualei performed a different section of “Haumea” in 2006, when the halau won the women’s kahiko competition.

The halau will perform Helen Desha Beamer’s “Kimo Hula” in Saturday’s hula ‘auana.

“When my mother was alive and we were discussing the numbers we were going to do for kahiko and ‘auana, I specifically mentioned that we needed to do ‘Kimo Hula,’” Heine said. “She asked me why. And I said, it’s a halau standard and a classic, the song. What I meant by a halau standard, I meant it was from a period where my mother was at her most creative. All the movement in the mele, it’s my mother.

“It’s befitting that we honor Hilo with a song about a place, Pi‘ihonua, which is where James ‘Kimo’ Henderson lived with his wife. They had a lot of parties there and Helen Desha Beamer was famous for writing about places where she visited. It was about being invited to people’s homes. This was one of them.”

The stately, graceful tune will be performed by Robert Cazimero, a kumu hula, who, like Heine’s mother, earned his ‘uniki, hula’s formal graduation, from the legendary Aunty Maiki Aiu Lake.

“It’s a standard, a classic, and the person singing it makes it even more so. It’s going to be wonderful,” Heine said.

Cazimero, whose Halau Na Kamalei O Lililehua won last year’s overall title, will be joined by Nicholas and Zachary Lum, members of the Hawaiian trio Keauhou.

Heine said her halau’s 40th anniversary on the Merrie Monarch stage is as important to the halau members as it is to her.

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“When my mom passed, it was very hard for all of us, and mostly for the girls because they never got to see her when she was in the hospital,” she explained. “We didn’t allow visitors because she needed to rest and heal. Unfortunately, things never turned for the better. So a lot of them really grieved. So, our journey to Merrie Monarch, yes, it is to celebrate our 40th anniversary, and yes, it is to honor our kumu in her legacy and to share her legacy. But it is also for them to heal. So our theme is ‘Ola i ka hula.’ Through hula we will heal.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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