In Hawai’i, we are lucky to have such breathtaking views of the night sky. There are not many places left on earth to view the heavens without the after-glow of artificial light in our way. Experts agree, as many of the world’s leading astronomers make their home atop the mountains of Maui and the Big Island.
For the ancient Hawaiians, the stars were interwoven into their mythology, used to voyage great distances across the Pacific, and held the calendar of events during each season. The time to harvest, plant, fish, and hunt were all held in the night sky.
Ancient Hawaiians adhered to a Lunar Calendar which held cutural and religious guidelines.
August holds a plethora of starry “treasures”, from the Perseid Meteor shower last weekend, the spectacular pairing of Jupiter and Venus in the early morning, to the appearance of the Zodiacal Light.
Zodiacal Light as seen in Colorado. Best viewing times are before dawn, and right after dusk. Photo courtesy of: cloudbait.com
To this day, there are a special few who continue to uphold the traditions of old. Voyaging Canoe societies, farmers, and other cultural practitioners use the knowledge of their ancestors to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture.
The Hokule'a, a famous voyaging canoe where sailors navigate across the Pacific using ancient astronomical techniques. Photo courtesy: northwesthawaiitimes.jpg
For those who are simply curious star-gazers wishing to learn more about the beauty above us, here are some handy websites to get you started:
Polynesian Voyaging Society : Learn more about the ancient Polynesian mastery of the stars.
Stardate.org : A great site to learn all about the astronomical happenings of the week.
Astronomy Picture of the Day: NASA website offers a great way to learn about the cosmos. Features an amazing picture or video of the day, with explanations and insight.
Hawaiian Moon Calendar: Learn about the phases of the moon, and its relation to fishing, planting, harvesting, and Hawaiian religious observation.
Coming to the show and want some background information on the characters and story you’re about to see? Saw the show and want to better understand and learn more about what you just saw? Already seen the show and know about the story but want to learn even more?? Take a minute and watch some great videos by Dave Barry, all about the characters, story, and culture surrounding the ‘Ulalena show!
‘Ulalena Character Playlist on YouTube
‘Ulalena features a variety of Hawaiian gods and legends. One of these very crucial, but somewhat looked over legends is that of Haloa, the child of Wakea (Father Heaven) and Ho’ohokukalai (the stars). Haloa is symbolized by the Taro plant, and represents the original ancestor of the Hawaiian people.
Before the elder, stronger Haloa, Ho’ohokukalai birthed an unhealthy and deformed child also named Haloa, who died at birth. This infant was buried, and a taro plant grew from it. The elder Haloa, is embodied by the taro plant, and the “elder brother” of all Hawaiians. He reflects the overall health and strength of the Hawaiian people and culture.
In ‘Ulalena, Haloa or Taro, is followed throughout the show, and represented by the green-clothed character carrying the staff. After Haloa is born in the first scene he is strong and vibrant, just as the Hawaiian people were at the time.
As the show goes on and the spirit of the Hawaiian culture is suffering from disease, guns, and other things brought by European colonialists, Haloa’s health also dwindles.
The conclusion of ‘Ulalena represents the renaissance of Hawaiian culture – the revitalization of its people and culture. This is portrayed as the ‘Ulalena rain showers over Haloa, and he is brought back to life; just like Hawaii as a whole.
The Taro plant, or Kalo in Hawaiian, is a base of the Hawaiian culture. It is not only important from a mythological standpoint, but Taro farming was a Hawaiian staple. The plant was and is still used for making poi, taro chips, and the leaves are used in luaus as well. Haloa was the root of life as the original Hawaiian descendant, but was also the root of life as a source of sustenance for the Hawaiian people.
There are many legends incorporated into ‘Ulalena. Although it is not necessary to understand all of these legends to enjoy the show, it definitely helps the viewer to better appreciate the story. The legend of Haloa, or Taro, is one of the key myths to the ‘Ulalena storyline.
Everyone has a gift or talent. However, not everyone chooses to embrace and master that talent to its full potential. The cast and crew of ‘Ulalena are all masters of their talents, and because of that, have made the show the success that it is today. One of these masters of his craft is ‘Ulalena musician, Anthony Natividad.
You may recognize him in the show as the guy playing the flute… with his nose! Working for ‘Ulalena since it first opened, Anthony still remembers being the only musician at the first practice on April 19, 1999. His craft goes beyond simply performing as a member of the incredibly talented ‘Ulalena band. He truly helps define the Aloha Spirit and the cultural ideals ‘Ulalena represents. Listening to him talk is like listening to someone read a book of inspirational and spiritual quotes. His positivity and genuine care for all things Hawaii and beyond are infectious. He can make a playable nose flute in only a few minutes – I’m assuming if there was a record for that, he would have it.
You can always find him at local festivals and events sharing both his musical talents and cultural wisdom. He can play multiple different instruments, admittedly having “More [instruments] than I can play in a day,” around his house: ukuleles, guitars, drums, flutes, and all of the “kahiko” instruments (ancient Hawaiian), to name a few. Two tracks off of his album have been featured in films; one in the Hollywood hit, The Descendants, and one in a PBS film. Playing for both entertainment and healing purposes, Anthony also practices sound therapy.
Using the healing power of sound, anything from physical ailments to mental stressors can be addressed. “I’ve heard all kinds of different experiences,” Anthony said. “One person claims it healed his back pain. Others have had complete out of body experiences.”
I was fortunate enough to personally experience a session of sound therapy, and while I can’t say I had a total out of body trip, I did leave very refreshed and mentally clear. Both Anthony’s musical talents and deep spirituality combine to allow him to practice this art form. A homemade didgeridoo, homemade nose flute, and Tibetan brass bowls are used simultaneously to create the therapeutic music experience. (If ‘Ulalena’s musical presentation itself is not therapeutic enough!)
Anthony is a proud husband and father. Born and raised here, he and his wife of 23 years have been together since high school. Their daughter is on track to be just as successful and cultured, starting at Tokai University in Honolulu this Fall, to study Asian Studies.
Even with all of the organizations and activities Anthony is involved in, he continues to be a major part of the ‘Ulalena Ohana. He believes the genuine uniqueness of the show as a whole sets it apart from others. “It’s not afraid to show the not happy side to the history,” he said. “The story is a world issue. It’s not just Hawaii,” he continued. “The same story has happened around the world.”
The caliber of the performers and people involved with ‘Ulalena are what make the show truly special, according to Anthony. “They are the best of the best,” he said. They know they are representing not just the culture, but also the original cast members, the current team, their ancestors, and the island of Maui as a whole.
For some people sleep is an option, and that is definitely the case with Anthony. Where he finds the time to do all he does, for so many different people, is still a mystery to me. He takes full advantage of every second of every day. It is obvious that his spirituality is directly reflected in the strong cultural and spiritual depth of ‘Ulalena. He doesn’t just play for the audience he said, “I’m playing for souls.”
Maui Theatre is not only home to ‘Ulalena, but the theatre also hosts other performances and groups. Recently, the theatre hosted the Alexander Academy of Performing Arts’ production of “Peter Pan.” The ballet was hosted April 14th and 15th, and was a huge success. The ballet featured an amazing 160 cast members! Their ages ranged from 3 years old to 18 years old, with some teachers even getting in on the action as well! Last year the group had another successful production, “Mary Poppins.” Every show the academy does here almost sells out. Maui Theatre is proud to help provide Maui’s youth with an opportunity to perform on such a big stage. Maybe someday these young performers will be part of the ‘Ulalena cast!
Peter Pan curtain call
Alexander Academy of Performing Arts "Peter Pan"
The ‘Ulalena Ohana’s commitment to Hawaiian culture goes beyond the show and the singing and dancing. It means giving back and taking care of the ‘aina. Recently, ‘Ulalena cast and crew members took a huaka’i (trip) to Hanaula, where they got their hands dirty, supporting the local non-profit organization Maui Cultural Lands.
The team helps clean the land by pulling weeds invasive to the ohi’a lehua, and planting a’ali’i plants, along with more ohi’a lehua.
The caretakers of the land, the Lindsey Ohana, rely on the help and charity of individuals like the ‘Ulalena cast and crew, to maintain the beautiful ancient countryside of the island. More information about the non-profit Maui Cultural Lands can be found by visiting www.mauiculturallands.org
As I’ve said before, ‘Ulalena’s cast and crew are more than coworkers; they are a family – an ohana. They love each other, just like they love the ‘Ulalena show and story itself. Their knowledge of the Hawaiian culture and passion to learn even more is truly infectious. Being the new addition to the group has been both challenging and fun.
I, unlike the great majority of the cast and crew, am from the mainland and am a relative maui newcomer, living here for two years. Although, I visited the island many times growing up, my familiarity with the culture and language was still very limited. I just like most audience members and fans of ‘Ulalena am still learning about the basics of the culture. However, now as part of the ‘Ulalena team, I couldn’t have a better group of people to teach me. Every day I learn something new about the show, the culture, and the ‘Ulalena Ohana. Since starting with ‘Ulalena a little over a month ago, I have learned more about Maui and Hawaii than I’ve learned in my entire 23 years of existence prior. Starting with just seeing the show multiple times, each time understanding the story more and more, to the weekly Hawaiian language classes with the cast taught by Kipe – I am on Hawaiian culture overload, but in a great way!
As a part of the cast and crew blog features, I thought it would be a good idea to let you know a little bit about myself, the girl behind the social media, since you’ll get the chance to follow my personal journey of immersion into the Hawaiian culture.
Growing up in Washington state, I visited Maui a lot, but never expected to move here. However, after graduating from Washington State University in May 2010, I had sunshine and aloha on my mind and moved to Maui, jobless and friendless, hoping for the best. So far so good – almost two years later and I’m still here and still loving it.
I’ve always loved learning and being a student, so I’ve truly enjoyed the challenge of learning about the Hawaiian culture since joining ‘Ulalena. While I do enjoy the challenge, for the first time in my life I feel like THAT kid in class; the one that always tries hard, but still seems extra confused. Weekly Hawaiian language class is always interesting, but wow, Hawaiian is about 100 times more difficult to learn than Spanish. It’s not just a language, it’s a way of speaking. Learning such an ancient language and culture has been a humbling experience.
Every Facebook update, Tweet, and blog post, requires some sort of research on my end. For what might be common knowledge to those born and raised on Maui, is new and interesting knowledge for myself, the majority of the time. I really try to information that I myself find interesting and worth knowing.
All in all, the point of this blog post isn’t to tell you how proud you should be of what I’m trying to learn; I just want you to know where I’m coming from. If you’re new to the Hawaiian culture like me, then learn with me on my quest of cultural understanding. If you’re already a Hawaiian culture guru, then enjoy watching (and feel free to help) the learning take place!
Fun Facts about me, Valerye:
I love tiedye, basketball, running, music, and the Seattle Supersonics. I used to be a radio DJ in college. My hometown is a lavender mecca, and my first job was at a lavender farm – if you want to know anything about lavender, I most likely know the answer.
Excited and healthy, ‘Ulalena’s Maya Iida will be making her acrobat debut this week! A Maui native, originally from Kahului, Maya appeared in her first ‘Ulalena show on January 2nd, 2012, as “Haloa,” the first ancestor to the Hawaiians. Beginning acrobatic training in July 2011, Maya’s journey to making her aerialist debut has been just that, a journey.
Maya has been recovering from a major injury she suffered while training to become an acrobat. She broke three bones in her left hand, requiring her to put her training on the back burner while she focused on rest and recovery. According to Maya the most difficult part of recovery was rebuilding her upper body strength. “I remember joking with my trainer, Kim Breitbach, that I wished I could buy my muscles at the store!” Maya said. “Without the help of Kim, who has always pushed me to succeed, my recovery would have been so much more difficult.”
Now stronger than ever, Maya will get to see her hard work and training pay off in her acrobatic debut as “Laka,” the lizard guardian of the waterfall, as well as “Navigator,” and “Hina,” goddess of the moon.
This former Miss Maui, definitely keeps herself busy. Between ‘Ulalena, teaching, and dancing, I was lucky enough to steal a few minutes of Maya’s time for a little question and answer session, to get to know her “off the stage.”
What roles do you play in the show? What is your favorite to perform?
So far I have played the role of “Haloa,” “Daughter,” the younger sister of the Ali’i, and the “baby tree.” I will soon debut as “Laka,” the lizard guardian of the waterfall, “Navigator,” and “Hina,” goddess of the moon. Of the roles I have performed so far my favorite is “Haloa.” Performing that part allowed me to share my love of modern dance.
How long have you been dancing?
I have been dancing for 10 years. I began my training at the Maui Academy of Performing Arts and continued through the University of Hawaii at Manoa. As a Rainbow Dancer at UH Manoa, I even got to perform at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. My favorite style of dance is lyrical. I feel it matches my personality best and is the style I hope to bring to my acrobatic roles.
What makes ‘Ulalena different than other dance productions you have been a part of?
Besides the longevity of this show, ‘Ulalena is different from other dance productions because the show emphasizes collective rather than individual talent. The Hawaiian culture itself is at the core and is highlighted above all performers.
Other than Miss Maui, what other pageants have you done?
In 2010 I won the Miss Downtown Honolulu title. It was the first title I won and the first year I entered pageants. In 2011 I won the Miss Maui title. It was an honor to represent Maui in the state pageant and place 4th runner up and win the academic award.
What kind of future goals do you have?
I have a passion for educating our youth. Currently, I am an elementary school substitute teacher. ‘Ulalena has always strived to incorporate our children as part of our community outreach with the show. As an educator with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology, I hope to one day contribute toward this wonderful partnership.
Why do you think people should see ‘Ulalena?
For residents, ‘Ulalena is a reminder of all that is at the heart of our island home. For visitors, ‘Ulalena shares a story that will transport them across time and history through chants, dance, and language. When they return to the present moment and go on with their lives, the spirit of ‘Ulalena will remain with them.
What is your favorite memory of being part of the ‘Ulalena Ohana?
My favorite moment of being part of the ‘Ulalena family was being invited up on stage to join in the daily circle for the first time. It was an honor to be hand in hand with such talented performers.
If you had to make a tagline for ‘Ulalena, what would it be?
‘Ulalena: from sky to earth, from past to present, from us to you.
The youngest of five children, Maya admits to being very shy growing up. “I hid in my school classroom from guest speakers like police officers or school photographers,” she said. “When my 8th grade teacher suggested I try out for a musical with the Maui Academy of Performing Arts, she changed my life.” Obviously Maya has come a long way since then. That 8th grade teacher not only changed Maya’s life, but also the lives of her ‘Ulalena Ohana, and audience members – all of whom get the chance to see her passion and talent light up the ‘Ulalena stage.
Come see and support Maya in her acrobat debut this week! Reserve tickets online at http://www.mauitheatre.com or call 808-856-7900.
From an audience member’s perspective, ‘Ulalena’s original story line, dancing, and music, might look like the key to its success, however after spending some time with the people who make ‘Ulalena happen, it is apparent that the true driver of success is simply the genuine quality of people that make up the ‘Ulalena team. Talent, culture, and aloha: three words that embody the ‘Ulalena cast and crew. Or I should say, ohana, because they act much more like a family than just a group of coworkers.
Obviously, every single individual involved with the show is extremely talented. From singing and dancing abilities, to audiovisual technician skills, everyone takes pride in what they do to make the show the best it can possibly be – most people in the audience probably don’t even realize Anthony Natividad is actually playing the flute with his nose! Not to mention, the former Miss Hawaii USA, prospective Miss Hawaii USA, and three former Miss Maui’s in the cast!
While talent can be found anywhere in the world, ‘Ulalena’s ohana adds the element of culture. They don’t just chant Hawaiian words and dance Hawaiian hula; they take and teach Hawaiian language classes, and learn the history behind the hula they dance. It’s not just a show, it’s their opportunity to share the rich and vibrant Hawaiian culture with visitors from around the globe. Even if you can’t understand the lyrics being sung, you can still understand the passion and emotion they’re being sung with.
Being the newest addition to the team, this intense cultural knowledge, talent, and bond among everyone can be somewhat intimidating. However, staying true to the Hawaiian ideals, every single person has made me feel beyond welcome. This “spirit of aloha” exuded from the entire ‘Ulalena ohana is unavoidable and contagious. In just a few short weeks, they have taught me more about Maui and Hawaiian culture than I’ve learned in my entire lifetime. Not only have I gained knowledge from the classes and show itself, but also from the way they treat each other and others. In a world so concerned with the botom line and material things, it’s refreshing to be surrounded with such genuine, good-natured people.
Talented yet humble. Full of culture and ready to share. These are the people that make ‘Ulalena so special, and why I’m so excited to share their stories with you! Check back soon for the first, of many, feature pieces on the cast and crew, starting with former Miss Maui, Maya Iida.
If you’ve ever experienced ‘Ulalena when on Maui, you know how much the performers give to a performance. The show is moving and powerful, but the people behind the characters are who bring the story to life. We recently sat down with Vene Chun, who plays the High Chief (Ali’i) to discover what the show means to him.
Cast Member Vene Chun, his son, and two nephews after an 'Ulalena Performance
Vene is a cultural practitioner whose Hawaiian roots touch everyone he meets. An important figure in Hawaiian Fishpond restoration and master of the sailing canoe (wa’a), Vene truly embodies the Aloha Spirit.
Vene joined ‘Ulalena four years ago and currently plays the role of high chief. In fact, his fourth anniversary was on August 26 of this year. He had never been on the stage, but his commanding presence caught the eye of then stage manager Caro Walker at the local shopping mall. Through hard work and plenty of natural “mana” or life force, Vene is definitely an ‘Ulalena standout.
Throughout the years, what has made you continue to be a part of ‘Ulalena?
“Truly the story itself and carrying the responsibility (or kuleana) of our ancestors. Highlighting the language, mythology, history and self-sustainable lifestyle of the people who originated here, and being able to share the “Ike” (knowledge) of their way of life.”
What’s your favorite scene and character in the show?
“My favorite scene has got to be the Lua scene. It’s full of energy and highlights the secret Hawaiian martial art that people rarely get to experience. My favorite character is Haloa, or the taro, because he is the first ancestor of our kupuna (elders). Hawaiians believe that he is always near, watching the changes and transformations of Hawaiian people. In our mythology Haloa is the strongest warrior of all the Hawaiians.”
Three words to describe the show:
“Our tagline says is best: Creation, Transformation, and Rebirth.”
Three words to describe Hawaiian culture:
The breath, the source, and Akua (God).
How would you describe the show to someone who has never seen it?
I can’t put it into words. ‘Ulalena is a feeling, a story that can only be understood by the heart.
Interested in seeing Vene perform? Tickets to ‘Ulalena can be purchased online via the Maui Theatre’s website, on Facebook (don’t forget to “like” us) or by calling us at 1-877-688-4800. Plus, our V.I.P. packages include an after-show “meet and greet” with Vene and all of ‘Ulalena’s amazing performers!
Posted in "Talk Story": Meet the Cast and Crew
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