'Recalling Hawaii' brings national and international hula dancers to the state

A new hula production features dancers and chanters from eight halau spanning three Hawaii islands, one West Coast state and two European countries.
Photo: Kevin Fujitani

Whether it’s a kahiko-style performance at the Merrie Monarch Festival or a Waikiki tourist luau, most hula productions in Hawaii are home-grown affairs. A new production at Hawaii Theatre this month, though, brings together 60 hula dancers and chanters from eight halau, not only from Oahu, Maui and Kauai, but also California and as far away as Germany and Switzerland.

How do so many groups, spanning multiple cities, streamline into a cohesive performance? “We practice separately, then come together a few days before the show,” says participant Irene Sutherland, who’s danced with the Maui hālau for 20 years. “It’s like a reunion.”

Recalling Hawaii, which takes center stage Nov. 9 at Hawaii Theatre, is the brainchild of kumu hula Roselle Bailey. Bailey grew up in Lahaina, but travels throughout Europe, where she performs and teaches hula. It’s this connection with her native roots and those she’s cultivated overseas that inspired her to bring together halau from across the globe. “My Germany students asked if we could bring Hawaii students to Europe to educate them about our culture,” she says. “But it’s applicable to Hawaii because so many people who live here don’t really know their history.”

The show mixes traditional and contemporary hula and Hawaiian music. And despite the cosmopolitan cast, expect an authentic performance. Bailey hews to the style of kumu hula Emma Sharpe, who taught her. “People find themselves moved to tears,” says Sutherland.

See Recalling Hawaii on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at Hawaii Theatre. Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 for children and seniors. hawaiitheatre.com