A Review of “Ha: Breath Of Life”

The Polynesian Cultural Center’s compelling night show celebrates its first anniversary

By: By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

The Details

“Ha: Breath of Life”
800-367-7060
www.polynesia.com

Showtimes are Mondays through Saturdays, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Show-only admission is $45 for adults, $35 for children. Packages are available from $60-$225 for adults and $45-$175 for children ages five through 15. Kids ages four and under are free. All packages include admission to PCC’s villages, show and dinner.

Commission: From 20 percent

When an erupting volcano devastates their home island, a man and his wife escape on their canoe, enduring violent storms at sea before washing ashore on an unknown island where villagers welcome them as ohana (family). The woman soon gives birth to a baby boy, whom she and her husband name “Mana.”

Cast members from “Ha: Breath of Life” represent many different Polynesian cultures. // © 2010 Polynesian Cultural Center_2

Cast members from “Ha: Breath of Life” represent many different Polynesian cultures.
// © 2010 Polynesian Cultural Center

So begins “Ha: Breath of Life,” the Polynesian Cultural Center’s (PCC’s) acclaimed evening show, which celebrates its first anniversary on Aug. 14. In 90 enthralling minutes, the show chronicles the life of Mana, who grows up from a playful, inquisitive child to a strong, brave warrior with a family of his own.

Universal themes of love, honor, respect, courage, faith, unity and cultural pride are explored through original songs, chants,choreography, costumes and special effects. To ensure accuracy, the show was produced with guidance from cultural experts from the various authentic Polynesian villages comprising PCC.

“We wanted a show that would be fresh and unique to the local market as well as to visitors who were already familiar with the typical Polynesian revue format,” said Delsa Moe, PCC’s director of cultural presentations and the show’s producer. “Except for three songs, all of the music is original.”

The $3 million show, which took three years to develop, also features state-of-the-art LED lighting and surround-sound systems, animated “tapa art” that introduces each segment of the story and a newly designed stage that draws the audience into the action.

“The moat and bridges around the old stage were filled with sand, which expanded the performance area and eliminated all visual and perceived barriers that used to separate the audience from it,” Moe said. “This allows for closer and more frequent interaction between the performers and the audience. Each island group describes a part of Mana’s life through their songs, dances and cultural practices.”

Highlights include 70 men and women performing the Maori haka; a dramatic battle scene in the Fijian sequence, with warriors running, leaping and swinging clubs and spears; and a spectacular closing fire-knife dance routine.

“Many people are familiar with the fire-knife dance,” Moe said, “but only in ‘Ha’ will you be able to see eight to 12 fire-knife dancers on stage at the same time.”

Props also play a prominent role in the production. “Ha’s” three-story backdrop features three volcanoes; a 30-foot-high waterfall; and a lush jungle of real coconut palms, bougainvillea, hibiscus, naupaka, lauae ferns and other tropical plants. In Maori tradition, kites are regarded as links between heaven and earth — a way for mortals to communicate with the gods and their ancestors. Young Mana tries to fly his father’s kite, which has a 14-foot wingspan. When it proves to be too big for him to handle alone, his father helps him, reminding him that he has much more to learn and experience before becoming a man.

In the Samoan segment, a perennial crowd pleaser is called Savali Afi (Fire Walk), where Mana literally plays with fire to prove that he is a worthy suitor for the beautiful Lani. It’s fun to watch his and other youths’ daring antics with four flaming fiber mats. The show also incorporates ti leaf streamers, which are often used as decorations for festivals and other celebrations in Tahiti.

“When Mana marries Lani, four 87-foot-long streamers adorn the wedding venue, which is the entire theater, not just the stage,” Moe said. “The members of the audience are considered to be wedding guests, too, so the garlands extend into their seating area.”

“Ha” is presented with such polish, panache and precision, it is hard to believe the cast of 80 is actually made up of amateurs — students at the adjoining Brigham Young University-Hawaii campus. The performers hail from all the islands of Polynesia, and performing in “Ha” enables them to earn money to gain a college education that otherwise would probably not be possible.

“Everyone can understand and relate to Mana’s story,” Moe said. “When I’m at the show, I watch the audience’s response to it. I’ve seen people cheer, cry and touch and move closer to their loved ones sitting beside them. They’re captivated throughout the entire show. They give the cast rousing, standing ovations night after night. We’re thrilled because that tells us we’re not only entertaining them, we’re touching their hearts and souls.”

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