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"Hā: Breath of Life:" Illuminating people's hearts through its storyline

From its vision to the show’s execution, the narratives of the Polynesian dances weave together love and culture, says creative team

Performers dance to the rhythm of the music, telling the story of Polynesia.
Photo by PCC

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After 14 years of showing “HĀ: Breath of Life” at the Polynesian Cultural Center, the night show creative team members said they were able to see the things they envisioned when they created the show. Rahira (La) Makekau, the cultural performance specialist from New Zealand, said the decision to interlace the diverse dance sections into a single storyline theme extended beyond cultural boundaries. According to Makekau, it took approximately three years to pull everything together into one show.

Makekau said being on the creative team for three years was the most profound experience of her life. She shared how everything seen on stage now is a legacy of those who came before. “Every show stands on the shoulders of the people who created it before. The strength and beauty of the previous shows are always a foundation for what’s coming next,” said Makekau. Unlike the current night show, she said the show in 2006 was a collective dance featuring cultures from across Polynesia.

She explained how during the process of creating the “HĀ: Breath of Life” show, the creative team did not want to diminish any of the cultural dancing sections. They came up with the idea of tying all the dancing sections together to tell one common story the audience could relate to. “The result is far beyond the cultural show,” said Makekau. “We all know death, birth and marriage, fights and contention. That’s what makes the show different…The audience was taught the plan of salvation without being taught the plan of salvation,” she said.

The story of Mana and his family is told through song and dance.
Photo by PCC

More than a story

Delsa Moe, the PCC’s vice president of cultural presentation, said the flow of “HĀ: Breath of Life” means more than simply showcasing a storyline. She said the message they share in the story plays a bigger role than entertainment purposes, and it distinguishes the show from other shows because of its genuine message.

Moe said, “A lot of people were surprised because they only wanted to see the Polynesian show, and they ended up having an emotional connection because they were following this young boy into manhood.” She said it is common to see people showing their expressions of gratitude after they watch the show. “It has always been a great experience to witness people’s reactions and responses,” said Moe.

“Many of the dancers can also relate to the show and everything they are going through,” she said. Moe explained in the Fijian sections of the dance, the young man, Mana, loses his loved one, which became personal for a dancer when they also lost a family member. “This whole show was a great reminder for them to remember that their loved one does live on even though they are gone from this life and [their loved one] watches over them.”

She also said some can relate to the learning and growth depicted in the Maori section. “It encourages the young people to learn, step up and become leaders.” She added heartfelt connections also come from the Samoan section of the show, which exemplifies Mana’s love life. “When you have somebody you are interested in, sometimes there are barriers. Perhaps a big brother who doesn’t want them to date their family members or maybe someone is not interested at all.”

The performance features students doing most of the dancing.
Photo by PCC

Showcasing the dances

According to Makekau, most of the dancers in the night show are students. They nurture and care for each other as a family, Makekau said, no matter how long they stay in the group with the constant turnover of students coming and graduating. Makekau said, “Every time there is a new group of dancers, new blood comes in. It’s a big challenge but that’s what makes the show stay fresh, even after 14 years.”

Some of the students have never danced before and not everyone is from Polynesia, said Makekau. She said she has seen miracles happen on a nightly basis from the performers, whether backstage or on stage.

According to Moe, the dancers’ commitment and hard work play a big role in their progression. “I saw many of them come in and they were very shy. And in a few months, they became very successful dancers,” said Moe. Based on what she has observed, Moe expressed there is no jealousy between dancers. They simply encourage everybody to be at their best. Moe explained the camaraderie was “because of the spirit of the gospel. We call it the Aloha Spirit too.”