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Posts Tagged ‘lincoln center’

The Nutcracker and The Crooner

Monday, November 28, 2011

Last night James and I went to see New York City Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.

A friend gifted us with tickets. (A nice friend to have, for sure!)  I’d never seen The Nutcracker except for a few selections that I’d seen on television.  And it was being presented at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.


It was kind of a “fancy affair.”  Not tuxedo-fancy.  But dressier than my usual Aloha shirt and jeans.

I was a little uncomfortable when we took our seats.  (I think a big part of that was because I actually wore the kind of shirt that I had to tuck into my pants and it kept getting bunched up and twisted!)  And I was a little nervous.  That’s when it dawned on me:

I had never been to a ballet before!

(Ok, I have a vague memory of attending an abridged version of Coppelia that was done by a local youth ballet troupe when I was a kid.  But that memory is so cloudy, it doesn’t really count.)


This was kind of like stepping through a window in time.

Confused?  Stay with me…

My college years were spent in a fantastic conservatory program at Carnegie Mellon University.  That’s where I received my BFA in vocal performance.  For four years, I was surrounded by classical music.

In truth, classical music wasn’t a great fit for me.  I mean, I learned to love aspects of it.  (I still get all choked up listening to certain operatic arias.)  But it didn’t take me long to realize I was probably not going to make my living by performing in an opera house.

When I moved to NYC to pursue a career in musical theater, I thought I’d found my niche.  And I love musical theater!  But…

It also didn’t “fill the void” that I had inside me.

Hawaiian music and hula fill that void.  It is the niche I’d been looking for. Nothing else has ever made me feel so fulfilled.

I’d left the world of classical music and dance to pursue a different path.  But The Nutcracker was like stepping back into once-familiar territory.  I was delighted and anxious.  Would I still be able to understand it?  Would there still be aspects that made me itchy?

Watching the maestro take his place and hearing the opening notes, I felt like I was right back in school.  (Except this time, I wasn’t going to be tested on what I was seeing and hearing.)

The education I’d gotten from school allowed me to enjoy the performance from several different viewpoints.  At times, I concentrated on the dancers and their carefully choreographed movements.

Other times, I found myself captivated while I watched the musicians create musical envelope for the performance.

Musicians and dancers were of the highest caliber, for sure.

However, at times I still felt uncomfortably lost in my own mind, deep in thought.


Well, for the past several years, I’ve been immersed in the world of Hawaiian music and hula.  The music and movements presented in The Nutcracker were very different from those I’ve been studying.  I found myself thinking, “What would Pops think of this section?” And I could almost hear him saying, “Interesting, that movement.  What does it mean?”

And more importantly, I could hear him say “That was excellent, but it was not hula.”


Hula exists because of the words.  The dance illustrates the lyrics.  The music supports the lyrics.  The music and the dance work together–symbiotically–to bring the words to life.

And then it dawned on me:

The Nutcracker has no words.

Ah!  It was like someone had turned on the lights in a dark room.

It wasn’t about comparing this performance to Hawaiian music and hula.

It wasn’t even about remembering some of the difficult times I had as a student in the conservatory.

This moment was about watching these amazingly gifted and dedicated performers put together an incredible performance.

Once I realized that, I was free to let go completely.  Watch with “fresh eyes.”  Experience something new.  Immerse myself in the joy and richness of the production.

What a great way to help ring in the holiday season!

P.S.  I came home and downloaded The Nutcracker.  Now I can listen to it and relive the magic over and over.

P.P.S.  As soon as we walked out of the theater, I untucked my shirt.


Last Thursday evening, I literally ran to the subway to head to Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium.


KAUMAKAIWA KANAKAʻOLE was in NYC and giving a performance!

(And it was FREE as part of  the Target Free Thursdays program!  Mahalo for that, Target!)

It’s not every day that we have the chance to see a member of the legendary Kanakaʻole family here in the Big Apple!

I was only familiar with him via his recordings.  His most recent collection, KAUMAKAIWA, is incredible.  The song LĀNAʻIHALE is one of my favorites–it’s one I listen to all the time.

But nothing prepared me for how POWERFUL his presence is in person.  Wow!

I arrived a the venue late–about 3 minutes into his performance.  A security guard met me at the door and told me that he wasn’t sure if I’d be able to enter–the space was near-filled to capacity.  Then he noticed the shell that I wear around my neck.  ”Are you Hawaiian?” he asked.  ”No,” I answered. “Not by blood.”

And then, as if it was planned, Kaumakaiwa’s voice filled the room and spilled out through the open door and onto the street where I was standing.  The security guard looked at me and said,  ”If you sneak in and sit over here, out of the way, I’ll let you in.”  Done deal!

Yes, Kaumakaiwa has an incredible voice that moves from low baritone to soaring falsetto.  Yes, Kaumakaiwa is an acclaimed ʻolapa (hula dancer).

But his performance was so much more!

The Hawaiian language (ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi) is his first language.  It pours of of his mouth effortlessly.  We don’t get many chances in NYC to see a young person who speaks Hawaiian so fluidly.   It was like listening to the songs–even familiar “standards”–for the first time.  (And how often can you say that?!)

His hands spontaneously hula as he sings, illustrating the lyrics with movement.  He comes from generations and generations (and generations!) of hula and Hawaiian music.  He was raised for part of his life by his grandmother, the legendary kumu hula, Pualani Kanakaʻole Kanahele of Hālau O KekuhiAnd his mother is the famed Kekuhi Kanahele-Frias. (And that’s only two generations of famed Hawaiians he’s descended from!)  It’s in his blood.  It’s in his bones.  I think he would feel like he was suffocating if he couldn’t move his hands.  They move like his breath.

His oli, his chant.  Well… I don’t really have words to describe it.  Like the ancient ancestors are heard, again, through his voice.  It’s so powerful that even thinking about it gives me chicken-skin.  Goosebumps.

And OH! the stories!  Yes!  He shared stories about the composers.  He shared stories about people and the places mentioned in the songs.  He shared stories from his own life experiences.  I was in heaven.

(**Crooner Note:  When my teacher sings, he always shares a story–either about the song’s origins or a story about the song and how it has come to life for him personally.  That’s the tradition that I’ve learned.  That’s the tradition that I am hoping/trying to perpetuate.  Sadly, I’ve seen more and more people just deliver song after song with very little storytelling in between.  As a Hawaiian music lover and musician, I would rather sacrifice some of the songs and offer the stories–it’s what helps to bring them to life!  Especially for those Hawaiian music “newbies” in the house– and especially when the song is in Hawaiian.  If you give them a chance to have a point of reference–something they can relate to while they’re listening–they won’t be lost.  Ah… but I digress.  That’s the subject of another blog post.  I was so grateful to see Kuamakaiwa keeping that tradition alive.)

The audience sat–mesmerized–throughout his entire performance.

(And that’s not something you see very often at a show–especially a free show–in NYC.)

At one point in the evening, I took a moment to watch some of the folks sitting near me.  A family with young kids sat to my left.  The kids laughed and danced while Kaumakaiwa sang, proving that one doesn’t need to know Hawaiian to appreciate a masterful performance.

And when it was all over, he greeted the fans who lined up to meet him.  He posed for pictures.  He greeted everyone with Aloha.  And he spent time with everyone who waited to see him–he didn’t rush them along as if he had a “better place” to be.  Instead, he made everyone feel like they were special.  He seemed to be truly grateful that they had attended the performance. (Mahalo for that!  And mahalo to those who taught him to be so gracious.  I’m suspecting it was some of the powerful women in his life–the women he thanked throughout the show.)

It was an incredible evening.  One of those nights that only comes along once in a lifetime.

However, as Kaumakaiwa proved by his “new” versions of “old” classics–first times can happen, again, in new and exciting ways.

I look forward to his next appearance here in NYC.

(**And a giant MAHALO to his fantastic guitar player/bandmate for the evening.  I’m terrible when it comes to remembering names.  I think it was Shawn Pimental.  Mahalo for sharing your musical gifts with us here in NYC!)

*Please click HERE to visit Kaumakaiwa Kanakaʻole’s website.