Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu
In 2002 two of my songs, “Hawaiian Rollercoaster” and “He Mele No Lilo,” were featured on the film and soundtrack for the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch.
After a final performance in February 2002 with my halau, I closed the doors of Na Mele Hula Ohana. Later that year I started a new halau, the Academy of Hawaiian Arts in Monterey, CA. In February 2003 I opened the Bay Area division of the Academy in Oakland.
On April 15th 2003, I released Call it What You Like (Mountain Apple Record Company, Honolulu, HI), the followup CD to my 1999 release, Po’okela Chants. Call it What You Like charted in Hawai’i and earned a spot among the top 15 releases on Billboard‘s World Music category.
Kane participated in the Merrie Monarch Festival in 2002 and 2003, traveling to the island of Moloka’i and living the Moloka’i lifestyle. Na Wahine participated in the World Hula Conference in 2000. The conference afforded the Wahine opportunity to learn from masters of the hula, chant and song, and to learn about big island place names and most of all, hula protocol.
In 1999, the majority of the halau (Keiki, Wahine, Kane and Kupuna) had the opportunity to travel to the Big Island. While there we attended several workshops hosted by Halau o Kekuhi in lauhala weaving, chant/oli and hula. Most memorable of all was our time spent time in Waipio Valley. The halau had an opportunity to plant kalo, clean the lo’i and pound poi. Learn to prepare authentic Hawaiian foods. We played Hawaiian games and learned of the myths and legends of the valley.
We are presently preparing to attend Hula Oni E in October 2003 and Merrie Monarch in 2004. We continue sponsorship of workshops both here in the mainland and in Hawai’i, and also continue our collaboration with Hawai’i
halau with student exchange programs. In 2002, I was awarded an artist award from the Durfee Foundation. This award afforded me the opportunity to expand our hall to house a library/study area for our students as well as offer Pacific Island cultural resources to our local community.
Teaching for the last 25 years has afforded me the opportunity to see the Hawaiian community grow from a handful of hula studios to several hundred within the Southern California area. As more and more Hawai’i residents transplant themselves to the mainland, the communities will continue to grow and hula will continue to expand in the continental U.S.
A few months ago I was fortunate enough to receive a $10,000 fellowship from the Gerbode Foundation to further my professional development. Thank you Gerbode Foundation!
My halau won an “izzie,” or Isadora Duncan Dance Award this year for “best company performance,” for our Hula Show 2002: Stories of the Lehua. We faced such stiff competition as the San Francisco Ballet, the Oakland Ballet, and the San Jose Ballet. It must have been our “grass skirts” that gave us the edge. I can’t tell you how much I hate “grass skirt” jokes!
In June, we helped to celebrate the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival’s 25th year anniversary by opening their three weekend run, featuring some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most dynamic ethnic dance performers. Because it was their 25th anniversary, I invited many dancers from all of my classes to perform. At one point, there were almost a hundred hula dancers on stage. Yeeha.
Presently, I have about 200 students enrolled in various classes of different levels. I’m kept very busy during the week teaching classes and studying for my impending ‘uniki.
The company had a really busy performing season this summer, performing in San Francisco, Reno and Saratoga/Sunnyvale. Thank goodness, we didn’t have to travel too far! Most of the events were held in outdoor amphitheaters, which added a nice “tropical” feel to our performance.
We are now in the midst of preparing for our annual fall home season held at the Palace of Fine Arts in October. This is our biggest show of the year, which usually consists of an entire new repertoire of chants, dances and songs. It is an immense amount of work, but also incredibly satisfying. Every year we sort of excitedly anticipate, as well as dread, the coming fall.
I see hula as having a strong, blossoming future. When I first started hula eighteen years in San Francisco, people in Hawai’i looked at us like, “Oh, how cute — those people on the mainland are trying to hula.” But over time we’ve really made a name for ourselves, and now it’s like we are part of them. We, too, are perpetuating the process, and I think that we are doing things that are as valid as they are. Hula is about dance, but people are also learning about language, class and history. It’s immersive. Compared to hula teachers in Hawai’i, we in the mainland have to work a little harder, in part because we don’t have some of the resources that our peers have in Hawai’i. So it’s even more important that we have our act together. We want to impart this knowledge to our students as best as we can. Personally, I want to learn more about traditional dance. I feel very fortunate that people seem to like what we do. I want to make sure that the traditional aspects are covered. We want the full spectrum to be covered so I can pass on the dances intact, with a continual line to antiquity.