Hā: Breath of Life
The Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaii's top paid visitor attraction, recently unveiled its new night show, "Hā: Breath of Life." On Saturday, my wife and I were among a group of people invited by the center to check it out as part of a "social media night."
Our hosts, Lee Britos and Maria Quidez, were warm and geek-savvy. The Hawaiian food buffet was good (shoyu poke, lomi salmon, Hawaiian sweet potato and taro bread the highlights)... especially on your second and third trip to get more. The backstage tour was short and sweet, where we watched the choreographer whip his dancers into shape, and marveled at the significant volume of firemaking tools.
And the new night show was amazing. Ambitious, energetic, varied, colorful, a simple narrative following the circle of live through performances representing dances and traditions from several Pacific islands. Notes the official site:
The cast consists of over 100 members, making it the largest evening show production on the Hawaiian Islands. Because all cast members are natives of numerous Pacific isles, dances performed are historically and culturally accurate. The unusual and colorful costuming is likewise true to their ethnic origins.
My wife loved the hula performances representing Hawaii. I liked the simplicity of the Maori poi ball dances. Crowd favorites included the "haka" of Aotearoa and, of course, the Samoan fire-knife dancing. There was just enough narration and projected visuals to move things along, and with an intermission, the whole production wrapped up exactly when it needed to.
Above is an eight-minute video summarizing our visit, from the Hawaiian buffet to the backstage tour to the dazzling evening performance itself. I also posted over 30 photos to Flickr.
In short, we had a wonderful time. And while "Hā" was the main attraction, we only saw some of what PCC has to offer. My wife vowed that we'd be back... with our kids.
Although I was born and raised in Hawaii, and lived here all my life, I've never been to the center, located in Lāʻie on the northeast coast of Oʻahu. I simply figured it was as overpriced as tourist attractions tend to be, and that the place didn't have much to offer locals. So I was just as curious to visit PCC as I was to see the new show.
On the cost front, while you could spurge and go for the $229-per-head "Super Ambassador" package, you can get most of the best stuff for $60 (center access, buffet dinner and the show). If you just want to wander the grounds, admission is $45.
And as for things of interest to locals, there are kamaʻaina discounts. But there's also an annual pass, which is now only $20 during a "statehood" promotion. The pass gets you into the center (with discounted rates for food and entertainment), and — as I realized during our visit — there's a lot going on. While we were treated to the evening program, the huge complex is buzzing all day with exhibits, hands-on activities, and other things I think our kids will like.
We're already annual members of the Waikiki Aquarium ($60), Bishop Museum ($70), and the Children's Discovery Center ($250!), all great places that our kids love, but all relatively modest in size. Now the Polynesian Cultural Center, which I'd always dismissed as expensive, looks pretty good at $20 a year. Dinner and a show is nice, but having 42-acres to wander at whim is great.
Sure, it's a long drive. But it's a nice drive, too.
You can watch the above video in HD on Vimeo or on YouTube, or download the original 288MB MPEG-4 video file from Blip.TV (click "Files and Links"). Lower resolution views can be found at Viddler and at Yahoo!