Maui Connections

Wondrous creations emerge from simple folds in paper in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s “Above the Fold” exhibit that opened Sunday in Schaefer International Gallery.

Well, maybe not so simple.

Subtitled “New Expressions in Origami,” the contemporary pieces by an international array of master folders swim across a wall like fish, or fly above viewers’ heads like birds in the roof beams. Some uncoil voluptuously in organic twists and turns, part garden vegetable, part Slinky.

In some cases the patterns of folds are exacting, precisely geometric, highlighting the paper’s whiteness. Other times the folds feel random, resembling crumpled grocery bags morphing into a flock of birds. Sometimes the scale of a piece dwarfs the observer standing in front of it, utterly baffled.

“How the heck did they do that?” artist George Allan wondered with my wife, Karen, and me, looking at a white-on-white work of exquisite geometry. Gallery Director Neida Bangerter’s installation, as always, enhances the pieces displayed, allowing the origami creations, like zoo creatures, room to breathe and create a sense of movement, while giving observers plenty of space in which to be swept away.

Dr. Robert J. Long led the opening-reception walkthrough Saturday evening after conducting two origami workshops earlier that day. His talk felt like an act of collective mind-blowing for attendees including George and Janet Allan, Rita Goldman, Susana and Roan Brown, Helen Nielsen and Paul Janes-Brown.

Long had created the paper koi “swimming” across one gallery wall in fluid patterns that seemed to change before your eyes. Their coloring, like actual fish, was even more remarkable when Long explained that the paper hadn’t been painted. Instead, dyes were added to the pulp, their swirls becoming integral parts of the paper when it dried.

A Stanford-trained laser physicist before he quit the day job, Long embodied origami’s evolution from humble Japanese origins hundreds of years ago when paper was rare and precious, to the unique marriage of art, geometry, science and engineering it has become today.

Featuring works by father and son, Erik and Martin Demaine of Canada and the U.S.; France’s Vincent Floderer; Miri Golan of Israel; Yuko Nishimura of Japan; Paul Jackson of the U.S. and Israel; the U.K.’s Richard Sweeney; and Jiangmei Wu of China and the U.S., “Above the Fold” continues in Schaefer Gallery at the MACC from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays through Nov. 25.

Admission is free. Visitors should prepare to be amazed.

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Echoes of Japan continued later that evening at Kula Shofukuji Mission. It was the last obon dance of summer up there on the way to the Haleakala summit. It had been postponed a week by island preparations for Hurricane Lane — happily a no-show in Kula.

Obon dances are a centuries-old tradition in Japan as participants, most clad in exquisite traditional kimono, execute the mesmerizing choreography. In the magical light of paper lanterns, the dancers slowly circle a drum tower, their movements gracefully synchronized to recorded traditional songs; taiko drums add the live heartbeat.

Bon dances are about communing with departed ancestors; the mood is always joyous. But as much as they hearkened back to the homeland for waves of Japanese immigrants, they also added a distinctive chapter to Maui’s multiethnic history and culture.

Each of Maui’s bon dances is unique, having taken on the characteristics of its congregation and the geography of its surroundings. Kula’s is the one with lots of vegetables and produce, and lots of kids, joining the circle, learning the steps.

Actually, all the island’s bon dances have lots of kids. The ceremonies are happily multigenerational, reflecting all sorts of wholesome family values — respect for elders, for a start — hard to find elsewhere in modern American society.

The Kula bon dance is also the one with the crazy parking, especially if you arrive after dark. Streetlights are a rarity, by design, in Kula, and balmy nights seem to get darker the higher you get.

You know you’re close when you start hearing the tinkling music and smelling sweet aromas of chow fun cooking through your open truck window. By now, parked cars line both sides of the narrow highway. As you pull up onto the shoulder, a supple jacaranda branch softly brushes your windshield like a carwash mop.

The music wafts into the inky night air, spilling down over the peaceful cemetery on the hillside below, the soft pastel glow of its lanterns blending into the lights of Central Maui twinkling in the distance.

It’s the perfect setting to say hello again to departed ancestors, and goodbye to another summer in this glorious place we’re lucky to call home.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning columnist and former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com.

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