Hula Finds a Home at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival

Photo courtesy of chrisyee via creative commons

Tourism might be down, but Americans still have a love affair with Hawaii. Only now our interests center on authentic birth certificates and property acquisitions. The Hawaiian culture is so intrinsically tied to its land (which has been slowly gleaned from Hawaiian control) that some preservationists ballyhoo its inevitable extinction. All this anxiety skews people into two camps: advocates and abandoners. In the world of Hawaiian dance, or hula, if you’re not keeping to strict traditions then you’re camp or kitsch or somehow treading on the sacrosanct. So, how do you preserve a culture that desperately needs to evolve? Enter Patrick Makuakane, founder of the Bay area’s most unconventional hula troupe, Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu. Makuakane’s blend of traditional and contemporary styles with theatrical, non-Hawaiian elements is uncomfortable, but nevertheless innovative. For nearly thirty years, Na Lei has struggled for acceptance in both the worlds of hula and high-minded, avant-garde dance. It now takes on the 21st century, entering into a phase chalk full of media stunts, commercialization, and even Twitter. Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu participates in the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival this weekend with a free, family-friendly offering. If you can’t make it to the islands this summer, Na Lei is certainly the next best thing.

Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu performs July 28 at 1 p.m. (and continues to 2:30 p.m.) at the Yerba Buena Gardens, 760 Howard St. (at 3rd St.), S.F. Admission is free; call 543-1718 or visit