Kiku Sakai Showcases Authentic Hawaiian Puppet Culture

An impressive display of cultural pluralism will be on stage when Japanese artist Kiku Sakai mixes ancient Kuruma Ningyo puppetry from Japan with Hula Ki’I, the indigenous puppet folklore of Hawaii, to tell the Hawaiian myth of Pele and Kamapua’a at La MaMa Experimental Theatre on August 27, 2015.

This one-night performance is a workshop leading up to to her upcoming major work, “Pele and Hi’iaka.”

The tale of Kamapuaʻa (“hog child”) is a wild tale of a fertility god associated with the island of Maui. Kamapuaʻa is a hog-man, a fertility superhuman and a trickster. He is enamored of the fire goddess Pele, with whom he shares a turbulent relationship. Despite Pele’s power, Kamapuaʻa’s persistence allows him to turn her lava rock into fertile soil.

Hula Ki’i is hula dance form in which performers either use a physical image or use their own bodies to represent the likeness of one. They can employ finger puppets, hand puppets, marionette-type ki’i, larger more life-size representations. Sometimes dancers assume the form of the image by manipulating their bodies to give the impression they are actually the ki’i.

Pele and Kamapuaa
Pele and Kamapua’a

Kiku Sakai is a proud member of the Pua Ali’I ‘Ilima o Nuioka, a school of Hawaiian dance with activities in Hawaii and New York. It is led by the prominent hula master, Vicky Holt Takamine.

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo is a form of puppet theater created in Japan around the end of the Edo period (mid-19th century). It is called Kuruma Ningyo because the puppeteer sits on a small wooden seat with wheels (rokuro-kuruma) and operates a puppet (ningyo).

La MaMa’s Artistic Director, Mia Yoo, beamed in speaking about this production, saying “Kiku Sakai is an artist that exemplifies the mission and tradition of inclusion here at La MaMa by combining her original Japanese artistic sensibilities with authentic Hawaiian puppet culture to bring forth a collaboration of art and artist unlike any other. We are proud to present such a unique and talented creator of World Theatre.”

Sakai has an impressive team of collaborators in this project, including musician/composer Yukio Tsuji (who appeared in “Macbeth” “Salome” and “M. Butterfly” on Broadway) and the multidisciplinary dancer and puppet theater artist Yoko Myoi (“CBS Presents: A New York Christmas to Remember” at St. Paul the Apostle). Overall project supervisor is Tom Lee (“War Horse” on Broadway, “Madam Butterfly” at the Met, NYC).

“Pele and Kamapua’a” will be performed by Kiku Sakai Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 7:00 pm at La MaMa 74A East 4th Street, NY, NY 10003. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased st The box office number is (646) 430-5374.

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.