According to Hawaiian legend, Pele, the powerful goddess of volcanoes, is the force of destruction and rebirth. Towns, lives and lush greenery are destroyed by molten lava. But as the lava cools, new land is formed. And eventually, vegetation begins to grow on this charred terrain.
It is a cycle that has gone on for thousands of years. And it will go on for thousands more -- unless it is sabotaged by humans.
"Pele is a direct reaction to the environment," says local artist Hiro. "And I think we, in contemporary times, are trying to find ways to show more respect and preservation for nature."
To show her respect, Hiro has developed "Ring of Fire: Pele Pahu," a ceremonial performance piece and environmental installation based on the legend of Pele. With the traditional Hawaiian drumming of Byron Mau as background, Hiro will paint a wall-size mural evoking Pele through images of destruction (the volcano erupting) and rebirth (the lehua, a bright red flower that looks like a flame and grows on lava rock).
For the installation, Hiro will arrange eight volcanic rocks, each representing one of the Hawaiian islands, on a mound of pebbles and sand. In the center of this, she says, there will be a pile of tree branches, which will be lightly spattered with red paint. She will encircle this with a piece of hemp and light it, creating a ring of fire, like the volcanic ring in the Pacific basin. Once this is doused, and the smoke rises, audience members will be asked to write a wish on a piece of wood and place it on the pile of branches. Pele, it is believed, will grant these wishes.
"We should be confronted with the powers of destruction and learn about it," Hiro says. "You can't just talk about the erosion in rain forests or in Alaska unless you think about renewal. You have to present a sense of optimism and work for it. Work for what you believe in."
"Ring of Fire: Pele Pahu" will be presented at the Studio Gallery Friday night at 6:30 as part of the month-long exhibition "Ring of Fire, Asian American Women Artists Now!" Admission is free. For information, call 202-232-8734. REVUEING BLACK HEROES "Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame" started out as a community production in London that would employ black, nonunion performers. J.D. Douglas and Flip Fraser, both born in the Caribbean and raised in London, wanted to put together a musical that would pay homage to their heroes and "sheroes," from Cleopatra to Louis Armstrong. It was going to be a full-blown revue -- they both like splashy productions -- with a sizable cast. But still. It was just community theater. Small time.
Nobody thought it would turn into a West End sellout, much less tour North America. Originally, it wasn't even supposed to survive the first run at London's Shaw Theater. "We were told, 'You'll never fill a seat!' " recalls Douglas.
But they did, and then some.
"Why did it happen?" asks Fraser. "Because we took a positive approach in portraying our heroes. And we think their spirits are watching over us."
The first spirit belonged to Bob Marley. Fraser was so devastated by Marley's death in 1981 that he wrote a paean to the great reggae musician. In 1987, Fraser and Douglas decided to similarly commemorate the 100th birthday of black activist Marcus Garvey. Then, suddenly, they realized they had the foundations for a show.
"Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame" grew into a seven-act musical extravaganza that spans 4,000 years of history.
"It's a big epic," says Douglas, "with characters from every continent, from almost every corner of the world."
"It's filled with pageantry," says Fraser, "like 'The King and I.' "
"It's like a carnival," adds Douglas, "the way people dance... . The visual imagery is married to the music."
"It's very representative of black achievement," concludes Fraser.
The score has hints of ancient themes, but a continual undercurrent of reggae and other Caribbean rhythms. "You don't have a chance to fall asleep," says Fraser, laughing, "because the music pumps, you know."
And the costumes are as elegant, stylish and as authentic as possible, from the royal robes of African kings to the sequin gowns of Diana Ross.
"We like to think of it as a live Madame Tussaud's," says Fraser. "Like a museum, except rather than seeing stills, you see movement. You see these characters come to life."
"Bob Marley's wife came to see it three times in Jamaica," says Douglas. "And she brought the grandchildren. After the show, they asked if they could bring Daddy home. And she had to say, 'Daddy has to go back to Heaven now.' "
"Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame" will be presented at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium Feb. 5-10. Tickets are $10.50 to $15.50 and available at TicketCenter. For information, call 301-369-6135. PULLEN, AT HOME WITH A RANGE OF STYLES "I'm mostly known as an avant-garde pianist -- a term I despise," says Don Pullen. "My music encompasses a broad scope. You'll hear a little bit of everything, because that is my experience."
Take, for example, his latest project, a commissioned work that combines the rhythms and sounds of Africa, Brazil and American jazz. "The thing these three have in common," he says, "is that music was part of everyday living, unlike other cultures, where you listen to music periodically."
Or his most recent album, "Random Thoughts" (Blue Note), a collection of improvised works based on themes for trio -- piano, bass and drums. Some of the music is melodic. Some is more jazzy. All of it is distinguished by Pullen's grand keyboard technique.
Or his last release, "New Beginnings," a widely hailed album that incorporates Latin, funk, gospel and jazz. " 'New Beginnings,' " wrote one critic, "deserves a place alongside classic trio recordings of Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Herbie Nichols, Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk."
Pullen was 10 when he started piano lessons with the woman across the street in his hometown of Roanoke, Va. "But as soon as I could play a chord," he says, "I was in the church, playing with the choir."
He left Roanoke at 17 to pursue a music career, and since then, he says, "I've worked in every different area of music -- rhythm and blues, pop, organ during the organ circuit, avant-garde... . Everything possible to survive in the music industry."
In fact, Pullen did so many things at once -- yet separately -- that occasionally record producers would come across one work in, say, gospel, and not realize it was the same Don Pullen who was jamming on a pop disc.
It's been in the past 10 years or so that he has started to combine all these styles. He's put together scores for dance companies -- although that is difficult for him, since his compositions are filled with so much improvisation.
He's even thinking of exploring the classical scene.
"Someone just called me from the Roanoke Philharmonic," he says. "They want me to come back to play with them -- 30 years after I left!"
Don Pullen is performing at Blues Alley Thursday at 8 and 10. Tickets are $15. For information, call 202-337-4141.