‘The Hawaiian Nutcracker’ a royal gift for the holidays

  • courtesy photo Celeste Staton, Kea Kapahua and Ruth Robison have all been part of multiple productions of
  • courtesy photo Micah Polloi as young David Kalakaua, Norman Arancon as the Spirit of Transformation and Tyler Dela Cruz as young Lydia Kamakaʻeha.
  • Photo by Raiatea Arcuri Kassidy Wilson and Kaʻeo Cachola as the young adult David Kalakaua and Lydia Kamakaʻeha in the pas de deux.

It will be a silver stroll down Memory Lane as the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center celebrates the 25th anniversary of “The Hawaiian Nutcracker.”

The curtain opens tonight at 7 p.m. for the first of five performances on the local retelling of the classic Christmas story featuring the original music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The remaining four performances are all this weekend: Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday.

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The original, created and choreographed by the late Earnest Morgan, a beloved UH-Hilo dance instructor, and Oahu choreographer WillieDean Ige, premiered in 1990 and was last performed in 1994. The lead choreographer is Kea Kapahua, with additional choreography by Celeste Staton, Annie Bunker, Nadia Schlosser, Sara Hayashi, Zoi Nakamura, Sarah Dunaway, Ku‘uhiapo Jeong, Sharyse Molina and Elyse Stevens.

“I really wanted to do it again because I was in the original in 1990 and this is such a great twist on the regular ‘Nutcracker,’” said Kea Kapahua, the show’s coordinator and one of the choreographers. “I thought it would be a great experience for the students in the UHH and (Hawaii Community College) dance programs and also the Hilo dance community.”

The choreography, Kapahua said is “completely different than the original” Morgan and Ige concept “because we wanted to make it accessible to our classes that have different instructors as well as to community dancers.”

“The story line is a little bit different than the original. Back in 1990, it was Princess Nahi‘ena‘ena and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III). I portrayed the princess back then,” Kapahua said. “But looking at the way it was set up back then, we thought we would do something a little more current. So we picked Kalakaua and Lili‘uokalani or Lydia Kamaka‘eha instead of brother and sister. We have a little boat as a gift to the prince, and it kind of foretells Kalakaua traveling around the globe and that Lydia Kamaka‘eha would be our last sovereign in our monarchy. She also receives a gift at the party of a tiara.”

Young Lydia Kamaka‘eha is being danced by Tyler Dela Cruz, with Micah Polloi as young David Kalakaua. The young adult Lydia Kamaka‘eha and David Kalakaua, who will dance a pas de deux choreographed by Kapahua are Kassidy Wilson and Ka‘eo Cachola, respectively.

And Jackie Pualani Johnson, a retired UH-Hilo drama professor, will play Queen Lili‘uokalani, a role with which she is intimately familiar, having portrayed Hawaii’s beloved last reigning monarch in numerous productions — mostly, if not all written by Johnson — including a moving performance in both English and Hawaiian at a 100th anniversary memorial service of Lili‘uokalani’s passing on Nov. 11, 2017, at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles in Hilo.

Others in the cast include: Norman Arancon as the Spirit of Transformation; Ruth Robison, who appeared in both the original 1990 production as a queen’s attendant and in 1992 as Queen Ka‘ahumanu as the governess; and Dori Yamada in what Kapahua described as a “surprise” but pivotal role. All in all, there are more than 100 dancers ranging in age from about 8 to 70-plus.

Others behind the scenes include: Justina Mattos, production consultant and program designer; Ariana Bassett, scenery and lighting designer; Rob Abe, sound designer; Lee Dombroski, costume designer; and Erin McClure, stage manager.

“I think it will be a good way to start off the holiday season,” Kapahua said. “At the end, it’s very poignant, and for those attuned to Hawaiian history, I think they’ll pick up on those little things. And for those who don’t know Hawaiian history, I think they’ll definitely enjoy the performance.”

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Advance tickets are $20 general, $15 senior discount, and $10 for UHH and HCC students and children 17 and under, available online at http://artscenter.uhh.hawaii.edu/ and by visiting or calling the UHHPAC box office at 932-7490 Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

All tickets are $5 extra at the door.

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