TAHITI: Dancing With Flair

Tahitian dancers in splendid costume (last year) again will take the stage at Heiva I Honolulu Tahitian dance competition. Photo by Mike Bambi

Tahitian dancers in splendid costume (last year) again will take the stage at Heiva I Honolulu Tahitian dance competition. Photo by Mike Bambi

We’re familiar with the impossibly fast hip-swaying of Tahitian dancers and their bright costumes that fan out like a burst of fireworks, but Rose Perreira offers some additional insight into the dance form. March 21-22 will mark Tahitian dance competition Heiva i Honolulu’s 12th annual celebration of Tahitian culture, modeled after the prestigious Heiva i Tahiti. “Heiva” roughly translates to a community assembly.

“Our main goal is to perpetuate our culture,” says festival founder Perreira, “and for people to have a vehicle through which they can express their creativity and love for the Tahitian culture.”

Local soloists and groups are represented, while dancers also come in from places as far flung as the Philippines, Mexico and Barcelona. Perreira herself spends half the year catering to halau, or pupuori, in Korea and Japan. About 90 percent of festival participants are non-Tahitian.

“The level of commitment and love they have for the culture is amazing,” says Perreira, who has been a kumu or raatira pupu for 30 years. She follows in the footsteps of four maternal generations of Tahitian dancers, and her own three children and five grandchildren all are involved in the festival.

A total of 500-plus performers turn up for the two-day festival, with a winning group from Heiva i Tahiti putting on an exhibition performance. Prizes are awarded at all age levels and categories, such as the fast movement or otea, slower movement or aparima, and ahupurotu, which features the wearing of a long dress. Groups are required to present a themed presentation, with participants being ages 14 and up, and soloists ages 4 and up. The drumming competition really draws the crowds:

“We have dancers backstage who run forward to see what’s going on,” notes Perreira.

Traditional and modern combine, with dancers writing their own songs in English and having them translated into Tahitian, or using traditional movements as a base but then incorporating contemporary elements (a group once made use of a mechanical shark on stage).

Six or so judges analyze the performances for authenticity, execution, body movement, synchronization and formation. They also may check to see whether, when the lyricist calls for a change in pitch or the drawing out of a word, the dancers pick up on those details and incorporate the emotion into their movement.

Costumes tend to be incredibly creative and vibrant, making use of natural materials from flowers and vines, to leaves, bamboo, coconuts fronds and shells.

“To get onstage and bring a story to life holds so much power – this is about my roots, my connection to my people,” says Perreira of her labor of love in hosting the festival with her company Tahiti Nui. “We want to give people who have a profound love for Tahitian culture the opportunity to step onto a beautiful stage and give it all they’ve got.”

the TICKET stub

When: March 21-22
Where: Waikiki Shell
Cost: $10-15 per day
More Info: 732-7342, tahitinuiinternational.com