With eyes on the Islands

Dancers from Ashland's hula troupe Ka Pi'o O Ke Anuenue will host an "Evening of Aloha" to raise money for an upcoming performance on Hawaii's Big Island.

The gala benefit will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Unitarian Center, 87 Fourth St., Ashland. Proceeds will help to cover costs for 18 local hula dancers to perform in June at the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park.

"The site itself is of great historic and cultural significance to the people," says Andrea Luchese, founder and teacher of Ka Pi'o O Ke Anuenue.

Every year, the national park hosts a cultural festival and invites cultural practitioners to demonstrate their crafts, which range from weaving and lei-making to hula-dancing and gourd vessel-making.

Ka Pi'o O Ke Anuenue was the only hula group invited from the mainland.

The Ashland hula school, formed four years ago, now has about 55 students, some as young as 8 years old.

"Of all my students, only one is part Hawaiian," says Luchese. "I think what draws people to Hawaii, Hawaiian culture and hula is there is something beautiful and universal about the aloha spirit."

For the three-day showcase in Hawaii, Luchese and the other dancers will present the ancient style of hula, known as kahiko, traditionally performed with chanters and percussionists.

"The purpose of the festival is to give visitors a glimpse of what Hawaii would have been like during the 15-, 16- and 1700s," says Luchese.

This hula tradition was the primary means of passing genealogies from generation to generation, she explains.

"It also was used as a way of prayer and passing on stories and legends," she says.

For the festival, Luchese will accompany the dancers with chants sung in the native language and play a percussive instrument made from dried gourds.

At the benefit gala, the hula troupe will open with a set of kahiko before moving into the more modern 'auana style.

" 'Auana reflects the passage of time and the influx of foreigners who brought with them their musical style and their instruments," says Luchese.

'Auana is characterized by "languid, flowing lyrical movements" and is normally accompanied by more instrumentation for a more melodic presentation.

For its 'auana set at the gala, Ka Pi'o O Ke Anuenue will be accompanied by Ashland Hawaiian band Ha'ena, performing contemporary songs by popular island artists, such as HAPA, Keali'i Reichel and Barefoot Natives. Ha'ena, formed in 2009, features percussionist Reed Bentley, guitarist and vocalist Kekaiolohia Enomoto, vocalist Brandt Nakamura, guitarist Stephan Kane and vocalist Jennifer Matsuura, all recent graduates of Southern Oregon University. Kane and Nakamura will not be performing at the gala.

Tickets to the gala cost $15, $5 for ages 12 and younger, and are available at Houston's Custom Framing & Fine Art, 270 E. Main St., Ashland. For more information, call 541-482-7033 or see www.ashlandhula.com.

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