The 57th annual Merrie Monarch Festival will take place June 24-26 at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo, festival President Luana Kawelu confirmed Thursday afternoon.
According to Kawelu, the festival will be televised only, on KFVE-TV (K5), with no in-stadium audience.
The vaunted hula competition was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We did 24 pages of COVID guidelines,” Kawelu said. “It’s so comprehensive and in depth.”
And for the first time, the television broadcast will be delayed, according to Kawelu, because coronavirus protocols conflict with the logistics of a live broadcast.
“It’s not going to be live. It’s going to be shown the week after,” she said.
Broadcast dates will be July 1-3.
There will be 15 halau competing in the so-called “Olympics of Hula.” There will be 19 group performances on Friday evening in hula kahiko (ancient hula) and Saturday evening in hula ‘auana (modern hula), with judging taking place after the last halau completes its performance Saturday.
There also will be smaller groups dancing. The traditional limit of 35 dancers per halau performance has been reduced to 20 this year.
Two of the halau will be from Hawaii Island. They are Halau Hula Ke ‘Olu Makani O Mauna Loa of Volcano, under the direction of kumu hula Meleana Manuel, and Halau Kala‘akeakauikawekiu of Kailua-Kona, under the direction of kumu hula Kenneth “Aloha” Victor.
For Manuel and her halau, it will be their debut in the competition, and it will be the second time for Victor and his halau.
Both will compete in the wahine division only, and neither will have a Miss Aloha Hula candidate.
Seven young women will compete Thursday, June 24, to be named Miss Aloha Hula, hula’s most coveted title for a solo dancer.
Halau will arrive in Hilo at least five days prior to the competition and will have to undergo COVID-19 testing before going into the quarantine bubble. They’ll also have to test negative prior to taking the stage.
“One positive test, the halau will be out,” Kawelu said.
There will be seven judges, as usual — but there also will be two alternates in case a judge tests positive.
The other Merrie Monarch events that make the festival Hilo’s premier week each year, such as the parade and the Wednesday night Ho‘ike — which features free performances of hula and folk dances from throughout the Pacific basin — will not take place this year.
Kawelu said she’s received a lot of calls from the public hoping the festival would happen, and she’s excited hula’s most prestigious competition will take place this year, but admits it’s been “really stressful.”
“It’s been tough to put this together, but I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We’ve gone over everything with the committee, with the doctors involved. And everything we found out we have to do, we’ve taken back to the kumu hula and the judges, because they have to live by that — the testing, the being in a bubble, the quarantine and so forth.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this place. So, now I can move on and tend to the hula portion, since the other part is taken care of.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org