'After World War II, we had nothing left; we were devastated," says Akari Ueoka of her native Japan. "But we still had music, and we had our bodies to dance."
The Japanese dance form of Yosakoi was born in 1954 out of the vestiges of war. A dance of high energy and hope, Yosakoi (meaning "good world has come") weaves traditional Japanese dance movements with modern music. It's a contemporary version of a traditional summer dance called Awa Odori, and it was born right there in Ueoka's hometown of Kochi.
"As a child, I remember hearing the music every summer, and I would be so excited because the festival was here!" Ueoka says. "I started to practice in the park when I was 5 or 6 years old."
Dancers Akari Ueoka (front) and Sarala Dandekar will perform in this unique collaboration.
A naturally gifted dancer, Ueoka has studied many different forms of dance in her life, but she always returns to her native Yosakoi.
Maui audiences will have an opportunity to see her perform this weekend in "Dhvani." The concert also features classical Indian Odissi dancer, teacher and choreographer Sarala Dandekar, and renowned tabla player Ty Burhoe.
Burhoe describes "dhvani" as an ancient Sanskrit word referring to "a spiritual awakening that happens, a doorway that opens, when conditions are right and energies cross in the right way."
The word could also describe what happened for Ueoka the first time she came to Maui. At 17, she had been competing in rhythmic gymnastics at the highly stressful national level and was suffering from an eating disorder. She was disillusioned, unhappy with herself and ready to drop out of high school.
Her dance teacher, Suga Kunitomo, who teaches an uplifting form of Yosakoi called Izanai, brought her to Maui.
"I went up Haleakala and saw the sunset," Ueoka recalls. "Maui spoke to me, and said, 'You are beautiful just the way you are.' From that moment on, I was at peace with myself."
Ueoka went back to Japan and finished high school, and two days later, moved to Maui. Eager to pursue a career in healing arts, she quickly realized there was one thing standing in her way: she didn't speak English.
With her typical unquenchable spirit, Ueoka enrolled at Maui Language Institute at Maui Community College. There she not only learned English, but went on to earn her associate's degree in early childhood education, and then later obtained her bachelor's degree in elementary education from University of Hawaii Manoa. She continued to perform and teach dance, traveling with Kunitomo to faraway places like New York City, Ghana and Croatia.
Today, as a kindergarten teacher at Roots School in Huelo, Ueoka finds a way to merge her passion for working with children with her passion for dance. "My students always ask me to 'do the Yosakoi!' " she laughs.
Sharing the unique dance form is always a joy for Ueoka. "Yosakoi is for everybody, not only for trained dancers," she says. "I taught a class where the youngest was 3 and the oldest was 56 - and they danced the same choreography! Yosakoi is not to impress people, but to bring people together, to share happiness."
In this weekend's show, Ueoka and Dandekar will perform solo pieces as well as an intricate fusion piece in which they dance the parts of the soul diverting from the source. They will be joined onstage by skilled dancers, musicians and singers in a dynamic celebration of "dhvani" and the healing power of music, poetry and dance.
* "Dhvani" will be performed in two locations: at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater; and at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Aloha Pavilion at the Napili Kai Beach Resort. Tickets for the MACC performance are $18 and $28, half-price for students 18 and younger. Applicable fees are added to tickets for all MACC shows, available at the MACC box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org. Tickets for the Napili Kai performance are $25 (half-price for 18 and younger); available at the door or online at www.talarecords.com.
After Tuesday's Grand Opening performance, Cirque Polynesia is off and running at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. The colorful show features aerial acts, contortionists, balancing acts and more by talented international performers.
* Cirque Polynesia runs at 7 p.m. six nights a week (Tuesdays are dark). There will be two special matinee performances at 2 p.m. this Saturday and next Saturday, June 13. Tickets start at $62 for adults, with special rates for kama'aina and keiki under 12. Dinner packages at 'Umalu are available. For reservations and information, visit www.cirquepolynesia.com or call 667-4540.
Paul Janes-Brown directs a staged reading of Hawaiian playwright David Penhallow's "Bonsai, Darling." The play is about Eudora Whitney and her struggles to deal with a failing marriage, an ailing son, greedy relatives and racial tensions - all set on Maui during the holiday season. The cast features Janes-Brown along with Lauren Burgess, Ute Karolina Finch, Dane Owen, Tom Althouse,Amy Kamikawa, George Kamiola and Barbara Sedano. The free reading is at 7 p.m. Friday at the Historic Iao Theater and is part of Maui OnStage's New Works Project.
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"Cinderella" wraps up its run at Steppingstone Playhouse at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. This fanciful, modern adaptation of the fairy tale is sure to captivate both children and adults with fun music, hilarious dialogue, and fantastic costumes. The keiki even get free glowsticks with which to help Cinderella transform her gown. Directed by Doug Kendrick, the show is presented by Professional Artists of the Pacific, LLC, in partnership with Maui Academy of Performing Arts. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday; 1, 4 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $8.50; available at the mall's Customer Service Desk or by calling 875-4367.
This month's Bare Essential Theater at the Historic Iao Theater is "Art," by Yasmina Reza. The play is about three friends and their differing views on a piece of artwork: a huge, all-white, very expensive painting brought home by Serge.Marc makes no secret of his disdain for the purchase, and Yvan tries to placate the two of them, with disastrous results that test their friendship. Translated from the French language, "Art" won the 1998 Tony Award for "Best Play." The free reading takes place at 6:30 p.m. Monday. For information about reading in the BET series, call Maui OnStage at 244-8680.
* Contact Sky Barnhart at email@example.com.