UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center season ‘a great mix of things’

  • Photo by Rosalie O'Connor The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet perform "Huma Rojo."
  • Photo by Colin Gillen/framelight.ie Goitse, considered a leader of the new generation of traditional Irish music ensembles, will play at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 as part of the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center's 2019-2020 season.
  • courtesy photo The Okaidja Afroso Trio will meld the musical traditions of the African diaspora with pop sensibilities at 7:30 p.m.
  • Photo by Anna Webber The Christian Sands Trio will open the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Art's Center's 2019-2020 season Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

With jazz, Afropop, holiday music, Irish music, a dizzying diversity of dance — and a stage drama centered around a Hawaiian queen’s conversion to Christianity — the 2019-2020 University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center has something for just about everyone.

“We’ve got a great mix of things. I’m excited about the variety we have, and it really is a trip around the world, in a way,” said Lee Dombroski, UHHPAC manager. “And we’ve got some great artists who will do some educational outreach, which is a big part of our mission.”

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Performances kick off with a fall special event, Dance Collective, Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Spearheaded by Dori Yamada, a dancer-choreographer and UHHPAC associate manager, the dance concert features a number of local dance schools and companies.

“Dori’s been busy with the other choreographers in town and they’re putting together another stellar show for the community and we’re looking forward to it,” Dombroski said. “And we’re finally at the point to where we’re able to do what we started this whole process for — which is to be able to give back to the dance community by providing workshops or master classes or some kind of event with our national and international visiting artists. “Last year, we did a workshop with Jacob Jonas The Company for the folks involved in the Dance Collective.”

The show is a special event, so admission is separate from season membership.

The season itself start with the Christian Sands Trio on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m.. Sands, not yet 30, has become one of the most in-demand pianists in jazz.

“I like the freedom of the trio format,” says Sands, who’ll be joined by bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Jerome Jennings. “It’s more dramatic to me. It’s a smaller entity but with a big personality.”

Dombroski described Sands as “young, exciting and innovative.”

“I think it will be a great show,” she said.

The Okaidja Afroso Trio, whose leader Dombroski called “a spectacular and interesting young artist,” brings a spicy fusion of Ghanian music with diverse cross-cultural influences on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m.

Most of the Afropop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s are sung in his native language, but have a universal meaning.

A percussionist, as well as a singer and guitarist, Afroso started as a dancer with Obo Addy and the Ghana Dance Ensemble.

“He does a lot of outreach to the schools,” Dombroski said. “He’s going to be doing school shows for us, ‘Talking Drum, Dancing Feet.’ It’s kind of a participatory demonstration and rhythmic exploration for the kids that I think will be really, really exciting.”

Five performances of “The Hawaiian Nutcracker” will mark a festive start to the holiday season. Choreographers Kea Kapahua, Celeste Staton and Annie Bunker will lead UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College dance classes plus community dancers to commemorate the silver anniversary of the concept’s creation by the beloved, late UHH dance instructor Earnest Morgan and Oahu choreographer WillieDean Ige.

“This is a nod to Earnest, who was at the helm of the Big Island dance community for quite awhile,” Dombroski said. “We’re going to revive and update this. It’ll have the jazz classes, the ballet classes, and even the aerial classes will be participating. There’ll also be some hula. It will be to Tchaikovsky’s music. We’ve just given the story a little local flavor.”

Performances will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21, 22 and 23 at 7 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 23 and 24.

A hardy perennial, the “Holiday Card to Hilo” concert returns Sunday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. This year’s theme is “A Season of Lights.”

Under the baton of Mark Sheffield, this concert brings together the UH-Hilo Kapili Choir and University Chorus, joined by the Hilo Community Chorus, Orchid Isle Orchestra, VOICES ensemble and special guest artists, with familiar Christmas and Hanukkah tunes, plus new works by composers Ola Gjeillo of Norway and Eriks Esenvalds of Latvia.

“It will be a mix international flair and traditional sounds of the season,” Dombroski said.

The season will be dancing into the new year with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 7:30 p.m.

Now more than two decades old, the company is known for its creative dance invention epitomizing the contemporary-classical genre.

“It’s been quite a while since we’ve had Aspen Santa Fe,” Dombroski said. “This is a co-production with the Hawaii Concert Society. That’s our way of bringing a big ballet company to Hilo, to work together.”

Another dance concert, SPEAK, bridges East and West, taking creative risks and breaking barriers in a way the Los Angeles Dance Chronicle described as “an evening of rhythmic magic.” For those who love dance, it’s a perfect Valentine’s date, Friday, Feb. 14, at 7:30 p.m.

“I’ve wanted to book Michelle Dorrance for years and we’re finally getting her here,” Dombroski said. “She’s one of the preeminent tap dancers in the U.S. and she won a MacArthur genius grant a few years back, as well. She is working with the Leela Dance Collective and they have created SPEAK, which is a joint venture of the Indian Kathak tradition and American tap dance. Both dance forms have been, typically, very, very male oriented and have been created and, pretty much, brought to the forefront as dance forms by men.”

The music also will bridge East and West, Dombroski said, with “a group comprised of a jazz trio and a small Indian music ensemble.”

“I think it’s going to be a once in a lifetime kind of thing.”

Goitse, pronounced “Go-witcha” — after an informal Gaelic Irish greeting meaning “come here” — is a popular quintet with a style Irish Music Magazine calls “brimming with energy and creative zeal.” The band’s gripping rhythm section is the backbone for charismatic young female vocalist and fiddler Áine McGeeney.

“They’ll have us all dancing in our chairs — or not in our chairs,” Dombroski quipped.

Goitse was named Traditional Group of the Year at the 2015 Live Ireland Awards and 2015 Group of the Year by Chicago Irish American News, so make sure your dance card is punched Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

The season will close with three performances of “The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu,” Friday April 3 and Saturday April 4 at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, April 5.

The play, written by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl and directed by Justina Mattos, explores the relationship with Hawaii’s queen and the early missionaries to Hawaii whose goal is to convert her to Christianity.

“It was a very tumultuous time for the Hawaiian people and their relationship with their beliefs,” said Dombroski. “It’s also a very, very well-written play.”

Another special event with separate admission from the season is the Indian Ink Theatre Company’s production of “Mrs. Krishnan’s Party.” It’s the same New Zealand company, with playwrights and creative geniuses Jacob Rajan and Justin Lewis, who brought a Hilo audience to a prolonged standing ovation in 2014 with Rajan’s one-man show “Guru of Chai.”

Dombroski described “Mrs. Krishnan’s Party,” as “a hoot and a half.”

“This is really going to be quite the party,” she said. “The audience is going to be the party guests, and they’re up on the stage with the performers. They have a very specific seating plot created around the acting space. And a number of people are actually in the acting space because they’re sitting at the dining room table. And Mrs. Krishnan cooks the meal that she’s going to serve at the party during the course of the play. And at the end, the audience is invited to join in and eat. She makes a big pot of daal and rice.”

Dinner and laughter are served one night only, Wednesday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. Seating is limited, so make reservations now.

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Season and single-event tickets are available, as is information on other Performing Arts Department events, such as the UH-Hilo Jazz Orchestra’s Frank Zappa and Beatles tribute shows, the Great Leaps Spring Dance Concert and the UH-Hilo choirs “We Sing the Spring: That 80s Concert” is available online at http://artscenter.uhh.hawaii.edu and by calling the UHHPAC box office at 932-7490.

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

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