Every spring since 1971, the best hula hālau are invited to perform in the most prestigious hula competition of its kind: the Merrie Monarch Festival.
As it’s often expressed in Hawai‘i, hula isn’t merely a dance, it’s a lifestyle. One of the most touching aspects of the Merrie Monarch Festival, the annual hula competition at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium in Hilo, is that the esteemed dancers who are invited to step onto the stage, by and large, aren’t professionals.
They might be a grocery store manager, lawyer, florist, firefighter or a construction worker. But through their love of Hawaiian culture, incredible dedication, and physical training, they also wow us with their ability to tell stories through dance.
In 2018, the seed for a film showcasing a handful of individuals just like this was planted. In a collaboration between Hawaiian Airlines and NMG Network, the documentary Ka Huaka‘i– The Journey to Merrie Monarch tracks the journeys of three Hawaiian Airlines employees—Lono Padilla, Tauarii Nahalea-Marama, and Kamalani Ho Wehrsig—to last year’s competition in real-time.
“We suggested a dancer, a kumu hula, and someone who would be next in line as a kumu,” said NMG’s lead producer Gerard Elmore. “As the project progressed, their stories and the focus crystalized.”
The documentary follows each of their hālau hula (hula troupes) from O‘ahu to Hawai‘i Island as they for every competitive category, from Miss Aloha Hula to hula kahiko (ancient hula).
While organizer’s made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Merrie Monarch Festival in efforts to quell the spread of Covid-19 in the islands, viewers around the world can still experience the magic and special camaraderie of hula through this documentary.
The film premieres this Sunday, April 19th at 8 p.m. on K5 and via an online livestream.
Here’s a guide to how to tune in:
Local Broadcast TV K5: Sunday, April 19, 2020 at 8:00pm KHNL (NBC): Tuesday, April 21, 2020 at 7:00pm