Mauians aiming to make mark at Merrie Monarch

Manalani English will make a repeat appearance in tonight’s Miss Aloha Hula pageant where in 2011, she captured the first runner-up title, falling just three points short of the crown won by another Maui woman, Tori Hulali Canha.

“I feel good, comfortable,” English said via cellphone Tuesday from the Big Island, the site of the 50th annual Merrie Monarch Festival. Considered the “Olympics” of hula, the three-day competition begins today with the soloist hula-and-chant contest.

The 24-year-old Waiohuli resident and Kapiolani Community College radiology technology student said she was a “little bit more focused now” that she was at the competition, but also felt excited about taking the stage.

English and her kumu hula Napua Greig of Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka of Kula, Maui, were busy Tuesday evening working on a ti leaf skirt English will be wearing tonight.

Another Maui woman, Sloane Makana West of Halau Kekuao-kala’au’ala’iliahi of Wailuku, will compete in tonight’s pageant held at the Aunty Edith Kanaka’ole Tennis Stadium in Hilo. West is a senior at Kamehameha Schools Maui.

West and her halau could not be reached for comment.

Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka led by Greig and her sister, Kahulu Maluo, will also have their wahine compete in the group portion of the competition. That will be held on Friday and Saturday. Halau Kekuaokala’au’ala’iliahi’ under the direction of ‘Iliahi and Haunani Paredes’ will enter its men in the kane group portion, also held Friday and Saturday.

Friday’s competition will feature hula kahiko (ancient), and on Saturday, the hula auana (modern) will be featured.

Last year, the Paredes’ halau, making its debut in the festival took fourth place overall in the kahiko and auana hula categories for its young men’s group.

Greig and Maluo’s halau didn’t compete last year but will be making its ninth visit to the competition this year.

“We’re excited . . . This is the 50th anniversary of the Merrie Monarch Festival. We’re just excited to be part of the jubilee,” Greig said.

She added that the halau began preparing for competition since November and held a fundraising concert and golf tournament to raise funds to get to Hilo.

As for the competition, Greig said it’s always a tough field.

“Merrie Monarch is always going to have competition. It’s the best groups in the world,” she said.

Tonight, English will be dancing fourth in a field of 12 listed contestants.

Greig said that for English’s kahiko performance she’ll perform a mele of love, or a love song. In that performance, she will be wearing a ti leaf skirt sewn in a “different style.”

For her auana performance, English will dance to E Pili Mai, or “Come to Me,” written by Greig’s uncle Larry Lindsey Kimura, an assistant professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Kimura wrote new verses for the song, especially for English’s performance.

Kimura saw English dance to his composition Tuesday, Greig said.

For the auana performance, Greig said English will be wearing a dark blue dress with fabric that hails from Japan.

According to a Merrie Monarch program book, West will be dancing in the fifth spot tonight. Her kahiko is titled “Auhea Wale ‘Oe E Ka ‘O’o.” It honors Queen Emma, the beloved wife of Alexander Liholiho, Kamehameha IV.

West’s auana is titled “Kimo Hula.” The hula was composed by Helen Desha Beamer as a gift of appreciation for her friends Kimo Henderson and his wife, Lydia Leimakani May Henderson, in recognition of their love and hospitality.

On Friday and Saturday, Greig and Maluo’s halau will be dancing in the 13th spot. There are 25 women who will be dancing from the halau. The youngest at 15 years old and oldest at 52.

The kahiko chant they will perform to is E Ho’i Kanani I Uluwehiwehi, which Greig said means let the beauty return to Uluwehiwehi. It is a series of chants written for the Lahaina area.

She said she suspects that Uluwehiwehi is a nickname of an area or perhaps the poet or person who wrote the chant.

She doesn’t know of any place in Lahaina known as Uluwehiwehi, though.

For its auana performance, the women will dance to Halema’uma’u.

According to competition’s program book, the Paredes men will be dancing in the 18th spot.

For hula kahiko, they will perform “Malie ‘O Maui,” which the program book describes as an athletic and bombastic hula from the repertoire of the late Kumu Hula O’Brian Eselu.

In the auana, the men will dance to “Laupahoehoe Hula.” The mele recalls a handsome and athletic Hawaiian boy from the Laupahoehoe Peninsula of Hawaii island.

Tonight, Friday and Saturday’s competition will be televised live on KFVE, all beginning at 6 p.m. The competition will be streamed live online at www.kfve.com.

For more information, visit www.merriemonarch.com.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.