Maui Theatre: Hosting the Keiki

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"

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Huaka’i to Hanaula

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

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Valerye Huff: Learning the Lifestyle

valeryeAs 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!

Aloha!

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.

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Maya Iida & Her Journey to Becoming an Acrobat

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.

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Talent, Culture, & Aloha

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.

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‘Ulalena “Talk Story” with Cast Member Vene Chun

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!

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Inside Nico’s World: Amazing ‘Ulalena Percussionist and his many “toys”

Some would say that the sun never sets on Nico Spezzacatena.  Fifty-one instruments, from around the globe, adorn his spot on ‘Ulalena’s bandstand.  They call his instrumental lair “the cage,” but it can hardly contain his passion and enthusiasm for indigenous music.
 
“Music brings people together, wherever you are.  It is a necessary part of life,” he explains.
 
Spezzacatena, from Hoboken, New Jersey, has devoted the last twenty years of his life to learning, teaching and performing traditional music and dance.  He earned his BFA and MFA in World Music Performance at the California Institute of the Arts but traveled as far as West Africa, Puerto Rico and Bali to explore the societal connections between percussion, song and dance.
 
Spezzacatena describes some elements that are integral in traditional music forms: “You cannot have one component without the others.  Instrumentation + Song + Dance = Music, in the non-western society.”
 
These are sage words from a man who makes his living supplying the heart-beat to a show, like ‘Ulalena:  a production that dances, chants and sings its way through the Hawaiian mythos.
 
Nico believes his cultural travels and studies “fit in perfectly with the story of ‘Ulalena, as do the instruments.”  Thus, he has been a fixture, on Maui, and at the Maui Theatre, for the past ten years.  
 
Thanks to the power of the world-wide-web, he has managed to continue his musical education, while residing in the middle of the Pacific.  He is able to study with authentic, indigenous, teachers from foreign countries, via Skype.  
 
Nico furthers his life-work, contributing as a board member and field-researcher for the Nada Brahma Foundation – a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of indigenous cultures.
www.nadabrahma.org
 
 

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‘Ulalena Adds a Special Touch to a Special Wedding

The view from the intimate stage where we sang for the wedding party.

Picture this:  a beautiful summer night on Maui. The wind lightly caressing your skin, and the sound of the ocean whispering in the night air. Last night was a night such as this, and for two people, it was one of the most important of their lives.

A very special program was prepared for this intimate wedding, and ‘Ulalena was there to help make it come to life.

‘Ulalena Musician Anthony Natividad helped the bride work on ‘Olelo Noeau (Hawaiian proverbs) that would serve as the backbone of the performance. He shared the Aloha spirit throughout the reception, which was filled with beautiful music,song, and poetry provided by the groom, bride, & other special guests.

The finale of the reception was the icing on the cake. ‘Ulalena vocalist Lia Krieg sang the title song of the show while Anthony played the drums and nose flute. Guests were treated to a surprise when the bride, groom, and others joined Lia in singing the ‘Ulalena chant.

Bride, Amy and Groom, Bart

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New Faces Grace the ‘Ulalena Stage, including a former Broadway Star!

Broadway performer, Tahitian dancer join ‘Ulalena

Maui Theatre’s ‘Ulalena show, recently welcomed two, new, cast members into the fold.

Chloe Stewart grew up on Oahu, where she attended Castle High School.  After graduating, she left Hawai’i to perform in a First National tour of the, Tony winning, production: Miss Saigon.  She moved to New York, shortly thereafter, and worked on the Broadway version of the show.

As an original cast member of four First National tour shows, she performed roles such as “Marguerite,” in The Scarlet Pimpernel and “Tuptim” in a Broadway revival production of The King and I.

Stewart toured as a featured singer in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Music of the Night and has performed across the United States and Europe.  She has appeared on TV, several times, and worked with directors such as Nicholas Hytner (Artisitic Director of London’s National Theatre), Acadamy Award-winning director, Eric Simonson, of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and Scott Ellis of Roundabout Theatre.

She studied acting in New York and Los Angeles, with a bevy of renowned instructors, but most recently, Stewart has been teaching acting at the prestigious Orange County High School of the Arts; an experience she found “incredibly rewarding and inspiring.”

“Right now there is nowhere in the world I would rather be than back home in Hawai’i.  I’m grateful to be part of ‘Ulalena and I feel honored to be performing with each and every member of this cast and crew.”

Born in Tahiti, Tereva Fontaine grew up in a family of dancers.  Her mother, Muriel, was a backdrop dancer in the famous Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando.  Her sister, Heira’i, is a three-time winner of the Heiva I Tahiti solo competition.

Tereva started dancing Tahitian at the age of thirteen in the Conservatory of Tahiti.  She started as a jazz and modern dancer but migrated to Tahitian dance under the influence of her sister.

At fourteen, she started performing with Les Grands Ballets de Tahiti: the prestigious, contemporary, Polynesian dance group.  She, quickly, became the “pride and joy” of Les Grands Ballets, where she was nicknamed “The Washing Machine” for her amazing ability to mimic its motion.

At the age of eighteen, she took third place in the solo competition at the Heiva I Tahiti.  Shortly after, she moved to Maui and fell in love with the island and its people.  She has lived there, ever since.



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‘Ulalena’s ‘Imiloa Team: Focusing on Perpetuating the Hawaiian Culture

‘Imiloa is a Hawaiian word that means “exploration driven by a sense of wonder and imagination”. What better word to describe what the ‘Ulalena staff stands for as it seeks to inspire and educate the world about the Hawaiian culture.  As if the ‘Ulalena show is not testament enough, the cast, crew, and staff have decided to take their mission a step further by getting involved with the community and cultural practitioners in a unique way that expresses the true spirit of ‘Ulalena’s message.

Kipe Ebana, original cast member and former dance captain, was recently appointed the head of ‘Imiloa as Cultural Advisor. What does this mean for the show? Ebana says that “it means working with the creative team and different cultural advisors to make
sure ‘Ulalena is culturally sound, not in only what we say but what we
do.”

Ebana has scheduled workshops for the cast and crew to help develop and maintain ‘Ulalena’s cultural relevance and accuracy. Many notable Hawaiian Cultural Practitioners such as Clifford Naeole, Charles Kaupu, O’Brian Eselu, Hokulani Holt Padilla, and Nalani Kanakaole will share their knowledge and expertise in their respected fields to help ensure that ‘Ulalena continues to be relevant and true to its roots.

Charles Kaupu, Hokulani Holt Padilla, and Clifford Naeole (courtesy: http://celebrationofthearts.org/)

The cast has already undergone an ‘Oli (chanting) workshop with Charles Kaupu, a lecture with O’Brian, and looks forward to learning more from the masters of Hawaiian art and culture as part of ongoing training. In addition, ‘Ulalena has adopted “Hui O Wa’a Kaulua” as its community service project for the year.  Ebana states that “Clifford Naeole thought that the idea our company in one

wa’a ‘moving’ together would be very symbolic and perfect fit for us.
We are putting together a cultural package with Maui Ocean Center,
Trilogy, and ‘Ulalena where a % of the proceeds will go this awesome
organization.”  The ‘Ulalena staff will also donate their own personal time to the organization, which seeks to educate the keiki (children) of Maui about the ancient Hawaiian art of navigation.

Hui O Wa'a Kaulua (photo courtesy: http://www.mauivents.com)

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