2017 Merrie Monarch Festival Highlights and Photo Galleries

By Nina Wu

Friday Night Kahiko Competition

2017 Merrie Monarch Festival Highlights and Photo Galleries

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The men of Kawai'ulaokala, under the direction of Kumu Keli'iho'omalu Puchalski, dance to "He Mele No Kamapua'a" during the Hula Kahiko competition of the 54th annual Merrie Monarch Festival on Friday. Photo: Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Saturday Night Auana Competition

2017 Merrie Monarch Festival Highlights and Photo Galleries

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Dancers with Halau O Kauhionamauna, under the direction of Kumu Denise Kauhionamauna, dance to "Lei Kula Na Ali'i" during the Hula 'Auana competition of the 54th annual Merrie Monarch Festival on Saturday. Photo: Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser.,

Merrie Monarch 2017 Overall Winner

Dancers with Ka La `Onohi Mai O Ha`eha`e, Hawaii under the direction of Kumus Tracie and Keawe Lopes dance to “Mauna Lahilahi” during the Hula ‘Auana competition of the 54th annual Merrie Monarch Festival on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium in Hilo. Photo: Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

A steadfast commitment and continuing love for hula paid off for Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha‘eha‘e, which took the overall winner title of the 54th Merrie Monarch Festival early Sunday.

The halau, under the direction of kumu hula Tracie and Keawe Lopes of Kaneohe, won over judges with an excellent performance of “Wai‘oli,” a rain mele honoring Queen Kapiolani at the group kahiko competition Friday, followed by a heartwarming rendition of “Mauna Lahi‑ lahi” for the group ‘auana competition Saturday.

With the highest combined score of 1,168 points, the halau takes home the Lokalia Montgomery Perpetual Trophy. In its nine years of competing at the festival, the relatively new halau has scored high consistently. Three years ago its solo dancer Ke‘alohilani Tara Eliga Serrao won the Miss Aloha Hula title.

“Every Merrie Monarch is special to us because of hula and how big of a role it plays in our life,” said Tracie Lopes after the win. “Just to walk on the stage and share our hula is fulfilling … and the fact that the girls still want to come back and dance, and learn more, we’re just so grateful. Really grateful.”

She wanted to thank the judges and both of their parents, who were there to support them throughout the competition. Their two daughters, 14 and 16, danced in the lineup this year. Saturday was also their youngest daughter’s fourth birthday — and yes, she, too, will probably dance on the stage one day.

The husband-and-wife kumu work well together, their voices and visions in harmony. Three years ago they were able to build a hula studio at their new home in Kaneohe, which the halau refers to by its historical name, Pua­hu­ula, Koo­lau­poko, Oahu.

Following festival tradition, the halau had to wait in the wings and perform last out of all 29 halau — 20 wahine and nine kane — who brought their best to the stage at Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium late Friday and Saturday because of their top scores last year.

Merrie Monarch 2017 Hightlights

The men of Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi, under the direction of Kumus Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes, dance to “Huaka’i Hele” during the Hula Kahiko competition of the 54th annual Merrie Monarch Festival on Friday. Photo: Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The bar was set high at this year’s competition, with creative choreography, insightful interpretations and mastery of oli, or chant, exhibited by the dancers.

Some halau returned to their foundations, like kumu hula Maelia Loebenstein Carter of Ka Pa Hula o Kauanoe o Wa‘ahila, who chose mele celebrating the simplicity and grace of her late grandmother Mae Ulalia Loebenstein.

In her debut, kumu hula Denise Kauhionamauna Kia Ramento of Halau Hula o Kauhionamauna of Waipahu brought back the ’70s style and hula legacy of kumu hula Luka and Louise Kaleiki of the ‘Ilima Hula Studio.

The kane dancers, as usual, were audience favorites, exhibiting athleticism and precision in kahiko and flirtatious fun and playfulness in ‘auana.

Kawaili‘ula, under the direction of kumu Chinky Mahoe, took kane overall. Mahoe’s former student, kumu Keli‘iho‘omalu Puchalski, brought Kawai‘ulaokala to the competition for the first time and placed fourth in kahiko.

On Thursday night 10 solo dancers vied for the title of Miss Aloha Hula, which went to Kelina Kyoko Ke‘ano‘ilehua Tiffany Eldredge of Halau Hi‘iakainamakalehua after a historic double tiebreaker. She pulled ahead with just 0.2 points more than the second-­place finisher.

Representing both older and newer generations of halau, they demonstrated that the language, culture and art form of Hawaii — the “heartbeat of the Hawaiian people,” as the Merrie Monarch, King David Kalakaua, called hula — is alive and well for decades to come.

The panel of judges this year comprised Ainsley Halemanu, Lahela Ka‘aihue, Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele, Etua Lopes, Pi‘ilani Lua, Keali‘i Reichel and Kalena Silva.

54TH ANNUAL MERRIE MONARCH FESTIVAL RESULTS

Overall Winner

>> Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha’eha’e, kumu Tracie and Keawe Lopes, 1,168

Wahine Kahiko

>> Halau Hi’iakainamakalehua, kumu Robert Ke’ano Ka’upu IV and Lono Padilla, 590

>> Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha’eha’e, kumu Tracie and Keawe Lopes, 589

>> Halau Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina’ala, kumu Leina’ala Pavao Jardin, 584

>> Halau Mohala ‘Ilima, kumu Mapuana de Silva, 576

>> Halau Na Lei Kaumaka o Uka, kumu Napua Greig, 575

Wahine Auana

>> Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha’eha’e, kumu Tracie and Keawe Lopes, 579

>> Halau Hula Ka Lehua Tuahine, kumu Ka’ilihiwa Vaughan-Darval, 578

>> Halau Hi’iakainamakalehua, kumu Robert Ke’ano Ka’upu IV and Lono Padilla, 573

>> Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela, kumu Kau’ionalani Kamana’o and Kunewa Mook, 571

>> Halau Hula o Kauhionamauna, kumu Denise Kauhionamauna Kia Ramento, 566

Wahine Overall

>> Ka La ‘Onohi Mai o Ha’eha’e, kumu Tracie and Keawe Lopes, 1,168

>> Halau Hi’iakainamakalehua, kumu Robert Ke’ano Ka’upu IV and Lono Padilla, 1,163

>> Hula Halau ‘o Kamuela, kumu Kau’ionalani Kamana’o and Kunewa Mook, 1,143

Kane Kahiko

>> Kawaili’ula, kumu Chinky Mahoe, 580

>> Halau Hula o Kahikilaulani, kumu Nahokuokalani Gaspang, 566

>> Ke Kai o Kahiki, kumu La’akea Perry, 562

>> Kawai’ulaokala, kumu Keli’iho’omalu Puchalski, 558

Kane ‘Auana

>> Halau i ka Wekiu, kumu Karl Veto Baker and Michael Lanakila Casupang, 584

>> Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi, kumu Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes, 581

>> Kawaili’ula, kumu Chinky Mahoe, 568

>> Ke Kai o Kahiki, kumu La’akea Perry, 567

Kane Overall

>> Kawaili’ula, kumu Chinky Mahoe, 1,148

>> Halau i ka Wekiu, kumu Karl Veto Baker and Michael Lanakila Casupang, 1,133

>> Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi, kumu Haunani and ‘Iliahi Paredes, 1,132

For more information about the Merrie Monarch Festival, visit www.hawaii.com/merrie-monarch.

Story adapted from “Husband-wife team guides halau to victory” by Nina Wu originally published on the StarAdvertiser.com.

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