'Te Moana Nui:' one-stop journey to savor South Seas
Maori New Zealand and Tuamotus dances from "Te Moana Nui." — Eugene Tanner photos courtesy Tiahti Productions.
Nobody does it better than Tihati Productions.
And with “Te Moana Nui” — Tihati’s flagship show created slightly more than a year ago for the Pacific Beach Hotel — sailing back to the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel’s Ainahaua Ballroom, it’s cause for celebration.
Tihati has raised the bar when it comes to the syncopation and splendor of authentic South Seas culture and artistry.
The opportunity to renew ties with the Princess Kaiulani, and revive “Te Moana Nui” in Tihati’s previous home for 30 years, make this a welcome homecoming. Preview performances are pau; the public can attend “Te Moana Nui,” beginning Friday (Aug. 28), where it will run Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The cornerstone is the behind-the-scenes team of Afatia Thompson and Misty Tufono, the son and daughter of Tihati Productions co-founders Jack and Cha Thompson, who skipper this production with new insights grounded by a time-honored success formula: do it all with awesome artistry, rooted in the traditions of the South Seas people, and complemented by new-fangled technology including high-definition LED video.
The combination of genuine cultural artistry, combined with eye-filling and mood-setting costumes, elevate the show to bona fide theater. All the music is live, performed by an unheralded combo sitting in the dark backdrop of the stage, and the tales and themes are grounded in ancient Polynesian tradition. Thus, this fascinating and a timeless journey of living culture.
The show, canvassing the rousing songs and dancers of Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Fiji, the atolls of the Tuamotus, and Maori New Zealand, shares some key elements of life:
- Voyaging: An opening about voyaging on double-hulled canoes throbs with drumbeats and percussion, setting the mood and rhythm of paddling from Raiatea to Hawaii, dancers clad in blue and white costumes representative of the seas.
- Fishing: A spirited number, the kaparima, depicts the daily livelihood of fishermen trying to net-cash the evasive fish in the reefs of the Tuamotus, richly enacted with women dancing in yellow costumes and bras fashioned from fish nets, pursued by a fisherman with his net.
- Dressing the high chief of Fiji: The Meke dance, composed by Emosi Damuni, is rich with ceremonial tradition — a leader is prepped for an ocean voyage by four attendants dressing him with lauhala, fabric, and fish teeth, with an ominous Kula Marawa bird signaling an ominous wayfaring journey.
- Reminiscing the past: Tonga serves as a stop where drumbeats offer symmetry and tempo befitting monarchial memories, performed by six wahine smartly clad in red and beige costumes with headpieces that swing and sway with the motion.
- The tides of time: “Te Moana Nui,” the show’s centerpiece title song, involves an ahuroa dance of Tahiti that compares the idiosyncrasies of women with the beckoning currents of the ocean waves. The women dancer’s turquoise costumes reflect the hues of the seas, and shell headpieces complete the nautical theme.
- Honoring the mariners: This probably is the most electric, vigorous element of the show, with the dances of Aoteroa New Zealand seafarers are honored for their wisdom of reading the map of the stars, building canoe vessels, and determine currents of the ocean. Six gents, one with a spear, enact the tongue-sticking warrior ritual, and six women perform the popular twirling poi ball dance.
- Recalling the golden era of Waikiki: Though the signature South Seas destinations are Tihati cornerstones, a trek to Oahu’s Waikiki, complete with a rainbow of holoku-clad dancers, reflect the hapa haole soundtrack of the times, with “Waikiki,” “Hawaii Calls” and “The Golden Sands of Waikiki” among the highlights.
- Saluting Samoa: Of course, the post-seafaring celebrations of Samoa are fitting for the fiery finale. First, women offer the maulu‘ulu with contagious dances; then the men engage in the siva fa‘ataupati, or slap dance, leading up to the siva afi, the fire knife dance featuring Mikaele Oloia, four-time world fire knife champion. He not only hurls and swirls one or two knives, he eats fire, places the flaming blades on his feet, and uses his body as tunnel through which those knives are passed. Amazing, no matter how often you witness this feat.
Micah Tiedemann has the demanding role as the emcee who also is the running thread through this lei of pageantry; he appears before most of the interludes to introduce the segments and dons exquisite, rarely-seen costuming (much of which he created). The title song was composed by Afatia Thompson, the eloquent, instructive narrative written and shaped by Misty Tufono.
The only other way to experience this kind of authenticity is to hop on a plan and head to the South Seas nations; this is a one-stop treat.
‘TE MOANA NUI’
Where: Ainahau Showroom, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel
When: Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, beginning Aug. 28
Time: Buffet dinner is served from 5:30 to 6:30 at the lobby-level Pikake Terrace; pre-show events (music, lei-making, kapa-making, Polynesian tattooing), in the Aihahau Showroom, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.; performance from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Cost: Dinner show package, includes prime rib and crab legs feast — deluxe package, $155 for adults, $116.50 for children 5 through 12, with preferred seating; regular seating, $105 for adults, $78.75 for children. Cocktails only: Adults $60, children $45.
Information: 921-600, www.princess-kaiulani.com