Hawaiian punch!

  • by Paul Parish
  • Tuesday October 14, 2008
Share this Post:
Dancers from the troupe Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu.
Dancers from the troupe Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu.

My gaydar was pinging steadily as I scanned the highly diverse crowd in the Palace of Fine Arts last Saturday. There were old ladies in abundance, many children, and lots of hunky guys in Hawaiian shirts for The Hula Show, the latest extravaganza put on by Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu. This extraordinarily entertaining company (the name means "the many feathered wreaths at the summit, held in high esteem") is directed by openly gay Patrick Makuakane, who's done a lot for the community. He lent his company to Sean Dorsey's Transgender Dance Festival here last summer, and will take them to the huge Halloween AIDS benefit in New Orleans at the end of this month.

Makuakane was onstage the whole evening: narrating the show, or dancing, or intoning the chants, setting the pace. He is a master teacher, a star performer, and also a community organizer of formidable talents. He looks like Michelangelo's Adam in a grass skirt, and dances like a god, sings like a cantor, and works the crowd like Bill Clinton. His speaking gifts are of the first rank. He's not only keeping Hawaiian culture alive, he's a populist making the case for it. If he ran for mayor, Gavin Newsom could be in trouble. His company can sell out the Palace of Fine Arts, or they can sell out Zellerbach.

He holds the rank in Hawaii of Kumu Hula, which is the equivalent of Ballet Master in the classical dance of Hawaii, and he both conserves the classic dances, and also creates fascinating new dances that extend the ancient traditions to incorporate how it feels to be alive in the modern world.

The new stuff can be fabulously outrageous. Prime among these last Saturday was "Bow Down, Mister," which depicts, in the language of hula, an encounter with a crowd of Hare Krishnas who wanted the same picnic ground in Golden Gate Park that the hula folk occupied. This event really happened, and Makuakane's narration of it is almost as delightful as is the danced version: "Only in San Francisco could two Asian/Pacific Island people get down and dirty and worship their gods, and nobody gets hurt! God, I love this city!" They're skipping, jingling and Namaste-ing in all directions, while making some room for Parna Basu, a tiny, stunning Kathak ballerina in red and blue silks dancing in the classical Indian style. Nothing I can say can convey the fizzy preposterousness of this piece. I felt the building was going to explode. This piece is, by itself, reason enough to go see their remaining shows this weekend.

Hula is, of course, a sensuously appealing dance. The men are as sexy as the women; they dance in leafy crowns, bare-chested in banana-leaf skirts, and work their hips with more force than the women. In Hawaii, size is prized, and my favorite of the guys had the most voluptuous hip action of anybody on the stage. He weighed 200 lbs. at least.

Hula is a highly trained dance: whatever the footwork, the hips work in their circles while the shoulders remain serene, quiet, and absolutely parallel to the floor. This creates a paradoxically serene sweetness above the turbulence below.

But dance is only part of the show. There are many numbers, with fabulous costumes, constantly changing (some traditional, some modern). Patty Ann Farrell's lighting is stunning, and the video graphic projections created overwhelming ambient effects, especially in the flower-power finale.

It's a fabulously entertaining evening, with many of the classic gay virtues: wonderful costumes, appealing performers, exact execution, lots of wit, tons of style. Go! Remaining shows are Oct. 17-18 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 19 at 3 p.m. A one-hour family matinee designed especially for children and families is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 19 at 12 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now through City Box Office at (415) 392-4400, or www.cityboxoffice.com.