Patrick Makuakane has been director of the nonprofit Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, focused on teaching and preserving the art of the hula and Hawaiian culture, for more than 25 years. Na Lei Hulu’s The Hula Show 2011 opens at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre on Saturday, and its benefit gala is Oct. 22.
What does Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu do?
We’re a hula company, and hula is really about learning the Hawaiian culture, so along with dancing we learn chanting, history, language and all of that.
Who participates in the classes and programs?
There’s a wide spectrum of people — it ranges from small children to senior citizens. There are slightly over 300 people in the entire group, and about 36 of those are in the performing company. A good number have some affiliation with Hawaii, and then there are people who find their way to the school. A lot of them have a connection to Hawaii, they love Hawaii.
What is hula?
It was developed by the Polynesians who first settled in Hawaii as a means of entertaining and honoring the culture’s gods and ruling chiefs. The dances are traditionally performed to a poetic text, known as mele. Hula interprets, embodies and breathes life into the cultural histories and stories that are passed down through the chants or mele.
What’s your personal connection to hula?
I started out as a kid of about 13 years old. I really joined the Hawaiian club at school to learn Hawaiian music, but the instructor was adamant that you had to learn to dance, too, and after two weeks, I was hooked. For a young Hawaiian child going into adolescence, it was a way to discover my native identity. For me, especially when I’m dancing and chanting, there’s just a connection to something really deep and profound, to my past, to my ancestry. It’s really a portal to my history.
Are you a good dancer?
I don’t dance and perform as often as I did. I was known during my time.
Does your company perform in Hawaii?
We do. We’ve actually been to Hawaii four times this year for shows, it’s been a very busy year.
What’s happening at The Hula Show 2011?
I’m really excited about our opening suite of dances. University of Hawaii linguist Puakea Nogelmeier is also a composer and author and we’re very excited to collaborate with him on this opening suite of chants about Hawaii’s long historical connection to San Francisco. We’re also working with the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus, and we’re dancing to an Islamic chant and an Indian raga. It’s running for five shows, Oct. 15-23, two weekends at the Palace of Fine Arts.
And I understand you’re throwing a luau?
It’s our gala benefit, which is on Oct. 22 at the Palace [of Fine Arts]. It includes dinner and a VIP seat at the show. It’s a little bit more sophisticated than just a pig in the pit, although there’s nothing wrong with that and I love it. We can’t just dig a pit in the middle of the lobby, but it’s more of a gala affair. And you can wear your Hawaiian shirt.