Talk Is Cheap

"The Hula Show," an evening of Hawaiian story and dance

From the sound of it, “The Hula Show” could be a new TV game show in which all the contestants answer questions wearing grass skirts and spinning hula hoops 'round their hips. Fortunately, “The Hula Show” is actually the latest evening of Hawaiian story and dance presented by Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu, the Bay Area's 16-year-old hula troupe.

The man behind the lei is Patrick Makuakane, a native Hawaiian turned San Franciscan who has been dancing hula since he was 13. A bawdy, loudmouthed guy, Makuakane is surprisingly garrulous for someone fluent in an art form in which practitioners generally say little. But for Makuakane, gabbing itself is a kind of dance: In Hawaii, dance was developed as a way of recasting stories, a form natives call “talk story.”

“The most important thing in hula isn't the movement; it's the poetry,” Makuakane says by phone one recent morning. “It's an oral tradition, and Hawaiians love to talk. In our poetry and chants there's a lot going on and a lot of double entendres.” There is also an incomparably playful lasciviousness. The dance style, which emanates from free hips, low-slung weight, and sturdily planted feet, is lusciously undulant, mirroring the sensuality of the natural world. And no matter what shapes the dancing body takes, a little hanky-panky is never too far behind. “Sexuality was an important aspect of Hawaiian culture,” Makuakane says. “Tales about flying vaginas were told around the campfire.”

Such stories of airborne genitalia will be part of “The Hula Show,” as will explorations into the history of Hawaii. Makuakane's own brand of crossover hula, or hula mua, mixes disparate bits of music — songs from Dead Can Dance, a tune by Roberta Flack — with the principles of the dance style and a sea of grass skirts, ukuleles, and Hawaiian shirts. But it's doubtful hula hoops will be part of the costumes; after all, who needs a plastic ring to help your hips sway when you've got the real thing?

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