I wrote this letter to the Times in response to Alastair Macaulay’s truly offensive, salacious and ignorant review of this hula performance, but of course they haven’t printed it – this critic needs to make an apology, as does the “Good” Grey Lady, herself, for printing it.
To the Editor:
In decades of reading the Times’ arts coverage, I have never come across anything so repellently misinformed as Alastair Macaulay’s Oct. 8 review of the hula performance of the Ka Leo O Laka I Ka Hikina O Ka La company, at City Center on Oct. 4.
The “jockstraps” Mr. Macaulay described in obnoxiously salacious terms are actually “malo,” traditional Hawaiian male attire that stretches back centuries, as does the art of hula itself. Mr. Macaulay continued to display his ignorance throughout his review, labeling the dancers’ moves part “martial arts,” which have nothing to do with traditional hula. His condescension towards the dancers’ other costumes, also fully traditional, which he described “high testosterone Christmas decorations,” again was unseemly, and his comment, “So this was traditional Hawaiian fare, and to be taken seriously,” smacked of the rankest kind of colonial patronization, undoubtedly similar to that of his British forebears, when first encountering native people, themselves.
Mr. Macaulay is clearly ignorant of the history, intricacies and depth of this magnificent art form of ancient hula, known as “kahiko,” which was accompanied only by chanting and percussive instruments. Kahiko is formed from a uniform movement of dancers, which evidently bored him, but which has viscerally thrilled more informed audiences, like at the annual Merrie Monarch hula festival in Hawaii, named for King Kalakaua (who helped reinstate the dance), which has long attracted international attention.
As for Mr. Macaulay’s stated preference for hula in grass skirts – more ignorant condescension – he should know that this more familiar genre is called “auana” (modern hula), which came into being in the 19th century, acclaimed for its lyrical grace, in contrast to kahiko’s aggressive starkness, and is accompanied by melodic singing, steel guitars and the like, familiar from Hollywood movies. Hula, it should be known, like the Hawaiian language itself, was long banned in Hawaii by repressive, emigrant missionary forces, preferring that the natives read the Bible, sing hymns and peacefully hand over their land.
Hula was not merely a dance – with ever-present, secret, gestural meanings which added complexity – but also a way of recording history in movement and through the poetry of its chants. I am frankly shocked that the Times would print such a purely offensive review, which is tantamount to a person saying that many of Alvin Ailey’s dances smack of the jungle and could be less wildly flailing and more formal, in the way, say, of Mr. Macaulay’s beloved classical ballet, in which field I fully give him credit as an authority.
(arts writer, born in Hawaii, contributor to GAY CITY NEWS, FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, etc.)