The Queen of Tonga's Dancers Take Honolulu

Jul 28, 2017

Credit Asia Pacific Dance Festival

Dance in Tonga is still a village thing, and people devote hours daily after work to practice for important occasions.  Separate groups of men and women perform, sometimes in spectacular groups of several hundred at a time, with intricate hand gestures, bobbing feather head pieces in unison.   HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports some of Tonga’s finest will be here next week for the Asia Pacific Dance Festival.

Credit Asia Pacific Dance Festival

The Asia Pacific Dance Festival is underway, with the Jimpu Kai USA 40th Anniversary Celebration of Okinawan dance on Sunday, 7/30/17 at 2pm.  Events continue through next week with a culinary celebration and two  different programs featuring performances by Korean, Tongan, and Hawaiian dancers.   UH Manoa Outreach College and the East West Center are principal sponsors, with performances on the Manoa campus at Kennedy Theatre.

Credit Asia Pacific Dance Festival

Kotoni Siale is a punake, a teacher of Tongan dance.  His wife, Paia Siale, sings and designed the costumes for their group, which was organized specifically for this festival by Her Majesty Queen Nanasipau’u.   The group hails from Kanokupolu, the village home of King Tupou VI and his lineage, and is descended from the premier dance group of Tonga.

Adrienne Kaeppler, is a Tonga scholar and Curator of Oceanic Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution.  She says dance in Tonga is a highly respected tradition practiced by everyone including those of highest rank.  Tongan dance was first recorded by Westerners during the second and third voyages of Captain James Cook, who reported large groups of dancers, both men and women.  Kaeppler says, when missionaries came, they tried to abolish dancing.  Though Christianity was adopted widely, dancing continued, and is enjoyed broadly as a part of village life. 

Credit Asia Pacific Dance Festival

Dances are performed primarily at celebrations honoring the royal family.  The lakalaka is a specific dance form of sung speeches with choreographed movements.  UNESCO has designated  lakalaka a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity, and Honolulu audiences will get to experience lakalaka at the 2017 Asia Pacific Dance Festival.     

Tim Slaughter, Director of the biannual Asia Pacific Dance Festival, says part of the festival's mission is to spark the local dance scene.  Movement workshops are offered, as well as a critic/writer's workshop to develop capacity in that area.  Writing about dance is considered essential to engaging new audiences.  

  Another new addition is the Culinary Celebration, planned for August 5, 2017, 5pm, on the lanai fronting Kennedy Theatre.  Lee Anne Wong, Chef Owner, Koko Head Cafe and Sweet Catch Poke Bar NYC will do a Korean dish, Hide Sakurai, Chef Owner, Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar, Búho Cocina y Cantina and BREAD & BUTTER will do a Japanese dish, Mark “Gooch” Noguchi, Chef/Owner, Pili Group will do a Hawaiian dish,  Ray German, Formerly of Fish House FOUR SEASONS RESORT at Ko Olina will do a Tongan dish, and Samantha Cervonayco, Sous Chef, Artizen by MW is doing a contemporary dessert.  The goal is really to engage all of your senses so you feel like you have time traveled to each of the cultures being represented. The chefs hope it takes the experience to new levels! 

$52-$74 Options Available on Website // Week festival pass also available. 

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