Thanks to such spectacles as "Hawaii Five-O" and Don Ho variety shows, many Americans conceive of the hula as a sexy, come-and-get-it dance performed by hip-wiggling lovelies in flimsy grass-skirts and leis. Any one looking for an authentic alternative has only to witness the mesmerizing, story-telling dances of the Hula Halauo Hoakalei, six-member troupe performing through next Sunday at the East Wing of the National Gallery in conjunction with the "Art of the Pacific Islands" exhibit.
These artists are indeed sensual, but also uplifting, historically aware and technically astute. As hula master Helen Hoakalei Kamau chants and drums off to one side of the makeshift platform, the four women and two men perform a stream of dances in praise of monarchs, rain and other subjects.
The movement quality is much like the Hawaiian language: mellifluous, gracious, rising in peaks, ebbing away. The dancers' bodies work in isolated, but coordinated sections, with the face tilted slightly skyward, the arms and hands sculpting arcs and curlicues in space, the pelvis and hips rocking silkily, the knees and heels shooting out and back.
The women's dances stress fluidity, calm and invitation, while the two men engage in happy chest-slapping and more frenetic activity. Though quite brief, the troupe's performance erases all stereotypes and leaves one feeling soothed and gently enlightened.
Performances daily at 12:30 and 2 p.m.