Hawaii calls

Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu knows hula from here to next week

PREVIEW Patrick Makuakane is big. But the tall, muscular choreographer's physical size is nothing compared to the largeness of his laughter, personality, and, above all, his love for and knowledge of hula. In addition to a very large school, Makuakane runs the Bay Area's most successful Hawaiian company, Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu. He has coached, choreographed, directed, and MC'd the halau's productions since 1985, and while about half of the dancers are Hawaiian, the rest are there for the love of the art. None are paid, but, Makuakane says, "We take good care of them." Learning about Hawaii, its history, and its arts and crafts — in addition to being fed well — is just one of the benefits.

Onstage Makuakane's gifts as a showman at times overshadow his remarkable ability as a vocalist and a percussionist. Watch him hunched over a drum and giving life to lyrics few of us understand, and you get a glimpse of an immensely serious artist at work. In India he would be called a guru; in Africa, a griot. Makuakane's greatest gift is in embracing a generous perspective on hula: he calls it "Hula Mula" — respecting the old, putting it into contemporary expression. That's why he can create a hula to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" — far removed from the ancient chants and drums — and it explains the origins of one early piece unearthed for this year's extravaganza, Krishna Hula. He remembers its genesis in Golden Gate Park. "We were doing our own thing and this band of chanting Hare Krishnas showed up," he recalls. "It was wild."

THE HULA SHOW 2008 Thurs/11, Oct. 17 and 18, 8 p.m.; Fri/12, 4 p.m.; Oct. 19, noon and 3 p.m.; $10–$40. Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon, SF. 1-800-407-1400, www.cityboxoffice.com

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