The moment Kumu Hula (hula teacher) and director Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu took the stage at Chabot College’s Performing Arts Center to introduce Kingdom Denied I knew I was in the presence of a great, charismatic artist and community leader. Most of the audience in the packed house were clearly Hawaiian, involved in community, and obviously in love with this man. By evening’s end, I knew why. The graceful, emotionally true and often deeply moving dance, the polished musicianship, persuasive acting and assured theatricality of this production were nothing short of astounding. The attention to detail, from the newspaper style programs duplicating the historical native Hawaiian newspaper “Star of the Pacific” to the carefully wrought costumes to the effective use of projections was wonderful.
Kingdom Denied tells the story of the last days of the Hawaiian monarchy with admirable clarity, utilizing a wide range of theatrical technique, but mostly relying on traditional island hula dance, music and chant. Among the many excellent performers, the subtle and nuanced acting of Mr. R. Bambao as King David Kalakaua was particularly noteworthy. The wonderful solo dance by Ms. K. Soukhamthath as Queen Emma Kaleleonalani, performed when she learns she has not been elected to take the throne upon the death of her husband moved me to tears. Most unforgettable was director and hula teacher Mr. M. K. Ho’omalu’s star turn as hula master Ioane “Dandy” Ukeke. Ho’omalu is a true exemplar of a great tradition, presenting his artistry with authority, profound grace and sly humor.
Sad to say, this extraordinary production was a one night stand. However, Mr. Ho’omalu continues to teach at the Academy of Hawaiian Arts in Oakland and assures his many admirers that he is committed to presenting hula in new and interesting ways. He believes that a hula performance should be more than competition, but a full theatrical experience. With Kingdom Denied he has demonstrated that he can deliver on that vision.
Dance and theatre lovers should take note and support this very great artist in our midst. To keep abreast of the work of the Academy of Hawaiian Arts, click here.
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