Patrick Makuakane, founder-director of the 22-year-old hula troupe Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu (“The many feathered wreaths at the summit, held in high esteem”), is an amazingly multi-talented man. Every one of the previous Na Lei shows he produced, directed, cast, choreographed, MC'd, sang and danced in have encompassed deep spiritual feelings, elements of the contemporary hotel-lounge hula, high good humor, and music well beyond the confines of the Island State.
One of the most memorable shows from Na Lei came in 2003, when Makuakane used the music of the Beatles and an aria from Leo Delibes' “Lakmé,” commingling British pop, Polynesian dance and French opera in a grand, affecting show. The cross-cultural approach made even more sense with the portrait of Hawaii's opera-loving King Kalakaua looking down on the stage.
This year's edition — at the Palace of Fine Arts last and next weekend — is very much in the Na Lei tradition of presenting a wide range of genres, appealing to the audience with authentic respect for Hawaii's spiritual heritage, but tickling funny-bones the next minute, then putting on a glitzy Las Vegas showstopper act.
The focus this year in “O'ahu: Confessions of an Island,” is the Islands' commercial/population center, taken for granted, while locals and tourists are searching for the “exotic” on the other islands. Makuakane is militantly Oahu-centric, putting the spotlight on such little-known gems of the island as Kaena Point, where souls of the recently departed are supposed to migrate into the spiritual realm of Po; a wonderful, remote beach near Hanauma Bay, Halona Cove; and, in central Oahu, Kukaniloko, the ancient birth site for chiefs of the highest lineage.
Each of these places, and many more, are portrayed and saluted in song and dance. Ensemble performances this year are more crisp and precise than ever. How some three dozen dancers from the Bay Area community can perform with such brilliant authenticity and professionalism is a puzzle, the solution for which must be their deep dedication to the cause and Makuakane' guiding hand.
The emotional range of the show is awesome. Narration and dance honoring Hawaii's last princess, the beautiful, tragic Kaiulani, move many in the audience to tears, but soon enough, Matthew Martin's grand travesty turn in the number about Waikiki's famed gay bar, Hula's, has everyone in stitches, “she” dancing the hula in a super tight dress, with 4-inch heels.
“Shores of Haleiwa,” “The Dark Cliffs of the Koolau,” and number after number in the two-hour-long show keep peaking, but the “Surfing Hula” near the end is as impressive and stirring a performance as you're likely to see anywhere from the War Memorial to major touring dance companies with admission in the multiples of Na Lei's moderate ticket prices.
IF YOU GO
O'ahu: Confessions of an Island
Presented by: Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu
Where: Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, Bay and Lyon streets, San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 26-27; 3 p.m. Oct. 28
Tickets: $30 to $35
Contact: (415) 392-4400; www.cityboxoffice.com