story by Lynn Cook
photo by Scott Suchman
In 2000, a new program debuted at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, one of the world's largest open-air theaters, a short drive from Washington, D.C. It was called Face of America, and it was created to celebrate the country’s national parks and to honor the relationship between nature and the creative process. That’s quite a relationship: The series began with ballet dancers performing in mountaineering gear, lowering themselves to the stage against a giant projected image of Yosemite’s Half Dome.
Last year, Hawai‘i got its chance to pay tribute to the relationship between culture and the ‘aina when Face of America: Hawai‘i debuted at Wolf Trap. The program, six years and $500,000 in the making, began with blue jean-clad slack key guitarist Ledward Ka‘apana rambling across the stage, while behind him high-definition video of the Big Island’s Honaunau City of Refuge played across three thirty-foot-high, IMAX-style movie screens. When the wave of cheers and applause from the 5,000-strong audience hit Led, he stopped in mid-stride. Then he swung his guitar around and launched into his best backyard party style. The crowd, as they say, went wild.
Next up was Keali‘i Reichel, surrounded by musicians and members of his halau. Chants, hula and love songs were all performed against a giant video backdrop of upcountry Maui and Haleakala. And then the stage erupted with a newly created performance by Halau O Kekuhi honoring Pele. Dancers began at the volcano, barefoot on the lava, then somehow appeared on the stage, looking as if they were stepping out into the present from the ancient past. In the end, the ovations echoed across the Shenandoah.
On March 3, Face of America: Hawai‘i will be presented again, this time at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The Islands’ parks may be closer, the screen less massive, the theater smaller, but the language, music and hula will undoubtedly lead the audience on another unforgettable journey.
Face of America: Hawai‘i
Maui Arts & Cultural Center