October 2018 In Dance

IN PRACTICE: Patrick Makuakāne’s Hula in Unusual Places by SIMA BELMAR

Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu / photo by Ron Worobec

turn around and say, I’m really sorry, thank you, we’ll be on our way. But my piece is finished already!” Makuakane calls his style of hula, hula mua , which he defines as “the kind of hula that moves forward.” The upcoming perfor- mance is titled I Mua , a common term in Hawai’i that means “move ahead,” among several related meanings like “straight ahead” and “let’s do it!” Makuakane says he titled the show “in a very Hawaiian way. That is, you never really refer to something directly but obliquely. Especially in mele or Hawaiian music, or poetry, the mele that accompanies the dance often speaks in meta- phors and hidden messages. The power of deduction is what’s interesting.” I wondered aloud whether modernist dance forms have suffered from the autonomizing gesture that dislocated movement from other forms of expression, severing the ties to verbal speech in ways that prevents audiences from using that power of deduction to make sense of and thereby more deeply enjoy the work. “I definitely engage in that conundrum myself,” Makuakane said, “because hula is a dance form that we dance to Hawaiian language and 99.99% of my audience doesn’t know

of San Francisco, they played one of our signature pieces, I Left My Heart in San Francisco . One by one the women got up to dance in the aisles from first class all the way down to the back. I remember look- ing back and seeing this one gentleman very annoyed because he was trying to open the overhead bin to get his bag and there was this hula dancer in front of him. He was waiting for her to go back so he could jump One of Makuakāne’s most cherished sites for teaching hula is San Quentin. up and remove his bag. For me that just made it. That was perfect. Not everyone was like, Oh, wasn’t that pretty. This guy was like, You’re in my way, I need to get my bag. Life is happening as it moves.” Makuakane never gets permits to perform Hit & Run Hula and he has learned how long it takes on average for law enforcement to show up: “These pieces are a minute to a minute and a half long. Several times we’ve just finished a piece and some security per- son will come up and say, Hey, you can’t do that here although it’s really nice. And I just

and lush green. But the burners embraced the hula dancers: “I can’t tell you how blown away I was by the inventiveness, the subversiveness, the acceptance, the radical expression of self, and the loving embrac- ing community—it reminded me of our community, very welcoming.” The ubiquity of electronic music at Burning Man also inspired Makuakane: “I’ve been fusing elec- tronic music with my dance for a while now. I put everything I had in my arsenal—elec- tronic music, traditional chants—and people loved it.”When we spoke this past August, Makuakane was about to bring his whole company to Burning Man, an unusual place turned desert home for hula. I Mua: Hula in Unusual Places is a pro- scenium performance that draws its spirit from Makuakane’s Hit & Run Hula , a series of hula flash mobs that have taken place all over San Francisco, in New York City (Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge), and, one time, on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from San Francisco to Hawai’i. Makuakane loves the way these performances work the element of surprise in two directions—audiences don’t see it coming and the dancers don’t know how they’re going to be received: “When Hawaiian Air hired twenty of us to dance on the plane to inaugurate a new flight out

THE LAST TIME I interviewed Patrick Makuakane, Artistic Director of Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wakiu, his company had just received a Special Award from the Izzies Committee for The World According to Hula . When he introduced the company, the emcee made a cringe-worthy Hollywood hula gesture, you know the one—Lucille Ball does it in Dance Girl, Dance (1940), Deb- bie Reynolds does it in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), the Minions do it in Despicable Me 3 (2017). Makuakane graciously accepted the award and gracefully admonished the emcee for promoting the very stereotypes he has long sought to dispel. This was in 1999. Today, Makuakane is happy to report that hula is living its hashtag moment, at least in the Bay Area; folks have awakened to the cultural realities of hula as an art form, cultural practice, and way of life. This month, Makuakane and com- pany present I Mua: Hula in Unusual Places at the Palace of Fine Arts. Right away the subtitle got me thinking about what consti- tutes an unusual place for hula, and the only thing that came to mind was “not Hawai’i.” I assumed that the moment hula hits the main- land it becomes unusual. Makuakane explains that San Francisco both is and isn’t an unusual place for hula. Hawaiian music and dance were featured at the Panama Pacific International Exposi- tion at the 1915 World’s Fair at the Palace of Fine Arts, where the company has its home season, and Hawai’i Pavilion headliner Lena Machado and her group were voted audi- ence favorites at the 1939 and 1940 World’s Fairs on Treasure Island: “So there has been a longstanding appreciation for Hawaiian music and a relationship between California and Hawai’i, in part because of the proxim- ity. Hawaiians move here more readily than anywhere else, making it easier for us to do our cultural work here.” Still, Makuakane concedes, “considering its traditional ori- gins, this is a strange place to be doing hula. I guess because I’ve been doing it for thirty- something years over here it doesn’t feel strange anymore.” What did feel strange was when Makuakane brought 10 members of his company to Burning Man for the first time three years ago. Indeed, images of the com- pany dancing in a haze of gray playa dust contrasts sharply with visions of blue waves

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