Hip hula show from Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu

Courtesy PhotoModern and traditional: Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu’s annual hula show includes both classic and contemporary takes on the Hawaiian art form.

It’s a bad pun to say that hula is hip, but in the hands of Patrick Makuakane, it couldn’t be truer.

Makuakane, director of the San Francisco-based hula group Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, has organized flash mob hulas in the Castro and on Hawaiian Airlines flights. His dancers perform what he calls “hula mua” — Hawaiian dance accompanied by non-Hawaiian music.

“We use pop, alternative, electronic, opera and jazz — all types of musical genres,” says the Hawaiian-born Makuakane, who founded the company 27 years ago. “We use traditional movement vocabulary as a foundation, but the movement is somewhat contemporary. I am influenced by the S.F. urban scene, so that finds its way into the choreography. But first and foremost, we are a Hawaiian dance company, so we don’t leap, we don’t do turns. Hula remains the foundation.”

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“The Hula Show 2012,” which opens Saturday at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, features traditional hula — with roots in Hawaiian poetry and oral storytelling — and hula mua.

A remix of Coldplay’s “Clocks” is one tune that Makuakane transformed into a vehicle for hula mua. Seen on YouTube, the movements are unmistakably hula, with undulating hips, softly stepping feet, calm shoulders and poised arms.

Yet there’s a palpable buzz while dancers perform ancient movements to the pulsating contemporary pop. The dancers beam, the audience is rapt and brief solos, not unlike a breakdancing competition, showcase virtuoso moves.

“The Hula Show 2012” is packed with 15 premieres, including a work inspired by King Kalakaua’s jubilee of 1886, the jazzy “The Little Black Dress,” a hip-hop remix hula and the new “Birth Certificate Hula” — a satirical response to the citizenship controversy surrounding President Barack Obama.

Audiences can also dance at an interactive family matinee Oct. 28.

lgallagher@sfexaminer.com

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