I went to see the new night show at the Polynesian Cultural Center on December 29th with my sister. My sister was visiting from Arizona. It was her second time to Hawaii and her first time to see the night show at PCC.
As we were waiting for the show to begin, I was struck by the appearance of the stage. I do have a few vague memories of the Mana show and very vivid memories of Horizons. I think the people in charge of the new show, Ha - The Breath of Life, didn't realize the biggest complaint about Mana was the stage. It lacked color and vibrancy.
When Horizons began its run, the stage had gone through a major renovation. And it was fantastic. In contrast, the stage for Ha was pathetic. The color and vibrancy was gone. Not only is the water curtain not being used, it was filled in with sand. That same sand is spread partly onto the stage as well. The sand is an off-white color, naturally, and it really deadens the overall color of the stage. The sand has been danced upon and has infiltrated more of the stage than perhaps the original intention. If it is too expensive to maintain the water curtain, then fine; don't use it. But please don't use sand. I'm sure the original intention is to give a beach or shoreline feeling to the stage to imitate the stage as an island but it just doesn't work.
One thing I kept hearing from people who still work at PCC or have some connection with it, is that Horizons had no story. I reminded them that it did have a story and if the complaint is that, then bring back the original story. Like all shows, it changed over time and was simplified. Horizons did need some simplification and it did achieve the right balance a few months after it started. But after 10 years, the Horizons show no longer contained some original elements or the "story".
Anyways, I was quite interested in what the "story" could be for Ha. Guess what! The story was the same as Horizons. It was about birth, childhood, becoming an adult, marriage, old age, and passing on traditions. IT IS THE SAME STORY. Just different costumes and arrangement of island dance groups.
Another thing I heard about before going to this show, was that there was more drama or more speaking parts. Well, this was mostly the narration for the animation. So no more narration really than Horizons had originally. Horizons eventually had it cut down mostly because it was not needed. And from what I saw that Tuesday night, it is not needed in the new show as well.
The animation is cute and interesting but I felt it was distracting. I have seen shows who have used fabric screens and projected images as part of the show but there seemed too much emphasis on it for this show. We can all watch videos at home. People come to Hawaii and PCC to see culture LIVE. I feel very sorry for the Polynesian Cultural Center for spending money (millions of dollars) on the animation. The narrator for the animation had a very pleasant tone of voice, but his enunciation and phrasing could use some work. Accents are fine and narrators in Horizons had accents, but this one could put you to sleep.
I have always said the quality and variety of the dancing shown at PCC is well worth the money. And I will still say that after seeing Ha. But I am disappointed in some of the costumes. The Hawaii section had the loudest colors but not natural at all. The colors were teal and hot pink. The guys were wearing the bright hot pink too. I have been at many luaus or other local shows over the last 15 years and I have never seen that choice in print or color for a show. The costumes should be what local people would pick for themselves. The Tonga section was my favorite. Tonga is the one area I liked better than Horizons (for costumes). Tahiti was okay but I've heard from some that it is disappointing that there were no hau skirts. The most disappointing was the Maori section. There was no needlepoint bodices on the girls, puipui skirts, patus or taiahas. The colors were dull browns, yellows, black, and white. And this on a very dull looking stage due to all the sand. Perhaps the point here is to de-emphasize the warrior part of the culture but at the same time managed to strip out all the passion. However, going back to my original point for this paragraph, the students are doing a good job and do dance as well as any other time I have seen the shows: Mana, Horizons, or now Ha.
One last item to point out is the representation of the spirit world. I noticed the dancers/performers wearing white Hawaiian traditional clothes from the beginning but didn't realize who they were until half way through. That part of the story is almost, accidentally, not there. And this is the most beautiful part of the story which should receive more emphasize somehow so that the audience would know what it was from the beginning. Perhaps taiaha could be brought back in because taiaha represent your ancestor, etc, etc.
Now, a little from my sister's reaction. She enjoyed the show very much. But she doesn't have much to compare it with. She just graduated with a music major for her college degree and also performs. She was impressed with the music and also the musicians. Her biggest issue is with the line up of the different cultures. My sister had been through the PCC villages 4 years ago and exposed to the different island cultures. So from that time till now to see the night show, she felt completely lost at which island culture she was looking at. The animation introduces each island but the animation looks the same from island to island so the impression is completely lost.
Overall, PCC may still have the best show in all of Hawaii. But they charge too much considering they seemed to skimp on the costumes, the stage, and pay part time students minimum wage... $60 tickets for just the show alone!? (Although the show website advertises tickets priced at $45) Yeah, waaayyy too much. Yes, PCC, you put all the money in the wrong area. Money should have gone to costumes, stage, and guess what? the students.