Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox
Peter Rockford Espiritu
Original air date: Tues., Jan. 22, 2008
Tau Dance Theatre Founder
What does it mean to be an artist? For Peter Rockford Espiritu, it’s a lifelong journey of creative expression through dance. Peter is founder, choreographer and artistic director of Tau Dance Theater, a dance company that combines ballet, modern dance, hula and Pacific Island traditions into something completely original.
Okay. Let me just ask you; um, off the top, I noticed you’re wearing a hala lei of a color I’ve never seen before.
It’s uh, um, it’s an orange-red, but it’s more red, and it’s very rare to see that color these days. I think it was more common before. And uh, I’m partial to hala. A lot of people that know me know that I—I’m—I love hala. Um, the—the—the … what it represents, about beginning and endings. And uh, for me, a lot of my life is about beginning and ending. So I thought hala might be appropriate, and the color is certainly is beautiful and very Hawaiian.
Beginning and endings; you mean your productions?
My productions. Um, I feel like uh, a lot of times we start from uh, just a little seed that’s planted, and it grows into this big tree, an—and it is unveiled to the public. But eventually, it has to—I have to let it go and—and move on to the next thing. And uh, and so that—that semblance of—of—the Hawaiians say hulihia, where things turn over or um—that is uh, I think uh, kind of uh, hala represents that—that uh, what we—we do in the—in the business world of—of the arts.
You’re known for mixing and compiling uh, genres of music, and—and dance. Um … let me—let me just say that again.
Uh, you’re known for combining and mixing genres of dance. But I think I’ve heard you say that you’re a traditionalist; how does that fit in?
Well, you know, I—I think to uh, respectfully—and I—and I’m all about that, respect—it uh, to do this, you have to be really heavily grounded down here. And uh, I—I take a lot of um … I do a lot to make sure that my—my con—my connection to the base is strong. And so in those ways, I still uh, study the art and the—the form, and the life of hula, and I feel that I dedicate myself to that. I still take uh … dance classes, I still go to uh, ballet classes, and I—and I keep myself regimented in those forms, because uh, I have to express myself in a different way. I have to be able to have um, tools at my disposal. If I don’t understand the base and where the base is, then I can’t abstract and—and uh, take it to another place. And uh, that’s where I love, uh, my love of—of the artform is, even if I’m creating a new artform.
Do you take flack from traditionalists who don’t want you to take their form anywhere?
Um, actually, a lot of—if I do, it’s probably someone who doesn’t know me or the um, the … the process, and the—the respect that give that process. Um, a lot of times, my answer to them is, It’s your job to keep the traditions alive, and keep that … base solid. It’s my job to identify for today and possibly tomorrow. And so um, I—I—I will always um, stand behind my work and always try to uh, explain where I’m going with something, and why I’m going there. And uh, if they can show me that I’m causing trouble in—in the wrong sense, I will stop what I’m doing.
You collaborated with a traditionalist Hawaiian kanakaole hula family on what a sense—what in a sense was a modern hula.
How did that happen?
Well, uh, I—I uh, sought them out. I wanted to do something that honored the new island—well, it’s gonna be a new island maybe in twenty, fifty thousand years. Um, which they named Loihi. Um, I wanted to honor that island, and I identified with that island because it is a new … entity.
Yeah; it is. It’s, once again, hala.
There’s gonna be a beginning and eventually, it’s gonna break through the water, and it’s gonna be part of the Hawaiian chain. What does that mean to us as m—now? Well, it should mean something to us. And I—I felt that there should be something that would honor that island, and I thought … what better people to go towards and ask to help me um, honor this island than to the—the traditionalists of hula, uh, the kanakaole. And uh, they thought about it; they thought about it for two years before they took that step. And uh, I’m grateful f—to them. They felt it was their kuleana because of their connection to Pele, and the lava flows, and that is what is causing this island to come. So now there are chants and um, that will honor that island. Why not honor—that island comes if we as uh, human beings survive ourselves. I hope that those—those dances and chants will survive um, that island to honor it when it does become an—a truly—truly an island.
By that time, today’s modern chants will be ancient chants.
It’ll be kahiko.
And there we go again, full circle.
How did you translate Loihi in dance?
You know, uh, we actually … uh, uh, we’re always talking about—I always talk about identity, because that’s what I struggle with. And um … uh, Auntie Pua and—and Nalani, what they did was identify—they actually enti—ended up calling the island uh, Kamaehu, the reddish child. And they—we called the project—it went from being O Loihi to Hanau Kamoku, meaning an island is born. So what we had to do was start to write new chants and identify what h—that island and what it meant to us inside as Hawaiians. And then uh, translate that to movement. And uh, as they started developing their side, I had to identify what we were doing, what—you know. ‘Cause the hula is very restrictive. And uh, they have to adhere to those restrictions. Me as—as a modernist, I don’t necessarily have to; I can wear lights on our heads and move around, and—and we could be the sludge and the—and—and the—the—you know, the coral polyps. We can do those things, we can stand on top of each other and move. So it actually helped to tell a story in a broader—uh, wider sense of the word. And uh, that was my—that was my goal, to help tell that story.
You say you struggle with identity as an issue in general.
I’m just trying to imagine you as a kid from Aiea—
–who wanted to grow up and be a ballet dancer.
M-hm. Um, yeah; I struggled—it’s funny, because I always walk that really fine line. I was a uh, three-year letterman for Aiea High School for the um, soccer program there, uh, for the varsity team. I was team captain when I was a senior, but I always also a band geek. You know, I was in the marching band. Um, I studied hula, I was part of the drama department, and—and I was kind of … just in everything, but everything artistic. And uh, as I got older, wanting to do ballet, a local young … kinda punky kid, local, from Aiea, wanting to go to New York and dance, I had to struggle with what that meant to—to me. I was fine with it, but what did that mean to my family? You know, they certainly didn’t want me to go off and go move to New York and do ballet. You know, that was the furthest thing. My father is a—is a uh, you know, he’s a welder, you know, by trade. And he’s a local, you know, young, great man from Maui. Certainly, ballet was not in his, you know, vision for me.
He didn’t want to tell his friends at the—
–construction yard; Eh, my kid’s gonna be a—
Or, he’s gonna be in Nutcracker; go check him out.
You know? But uh, actually now, he proudly says that, you know, My son is a ballet dancer, and he—he—he’s in—a director and artist. You know, he—he’s an artist and he—he’s a dancer. And he’s proud of me.
Well, at that time, who were your influences? Who did you look to in art to emulate and learn from?
Um, Martha Graham; um, in ballet, Baryshnikov certainly was—you know, started to uh, ho—hold the torch for uh, male dancers. Um, I—uh, you know, I looked to—because I uh, love different forms, from uh, you know, uh, uh, a Gregorian chant, the beauty of that, to the—the other side of it, which would be uh, a basic ha—beautiful Hawaiian oli, you know, the—my—I—I struggled with identity because what does that mean? I want to be a ballet dancer, but I still love my hula. You know, so I had to find—I had to go off and look for who I was and why I was. What was my—what was my function here, and how can I help Hawaii survive as a culture and as a people?
So you did go to New York, and you did become a ballet dancer.
[chuckle] I did; I was crazy, and—and—enough to—and energetic enough to uh, move to New York and—and start to follow that dream. And uh, I—I—put—got a scholarship at the School of American Ballet, which is a feeder school of the New York City Ballet that was founded by uh, George Balanchine. And uh, I pursued that dream.
Until I found out that—well, I … eventually realized I wasn’t going to be the—the prince. I wasn’t gonna play the lead role. There was a chance, a big, big chance that I might, but uh, the furthest—the—the highest I felt that I could go, given my stature and all of that, uh, would be—
Stature and all of that; please explain.
Okay. I have to—I—I—I—I really think that in the ballet world, at that time—and you’re talking early to mid-80s. I was brown, I was short, and I wasn’t bl—blond-haired and blue-eyed. I wasn’t gonna be the prince. And I ha—I had to—once again, I had to struggle with the whole thing of, this was my dream. I went to New York to become the—the—attain the highest position I could in ballet. It wasn’t gonna happen.
It’s like the equivalent of be—you would always be a character actor, rather than the star of a movie.
Exactly. And some of those character actors make more money eventually as a star, but you’re—I wanted to be the star. And uh, when I finally be—um, came to the realization that that was not gonna happen, I had to make some hard decisions and say, Well, Plan B, Plan C; what do you want to do? And uh, my whole thing was … uh, move back home. When I left, I knew I was gonna start my own company. And what that company was gonna be, I wasn’t sure. But that started the whole journey towards Tau Dance Theater, which is where I ended up trying to identify myself as an artist, as a choreographer, and as a dancer.
This is a f—uh, a dance company you founded.
Correct. We just celebrated um, ten years last year. And uh, you know, uh, even at the beginning of it, I was heavily influenced by ballet. Eventually, I found modern, and eventually it brought me back to hula.
I’ve seen you do hula, Samoan slap dance, Tango. I mean, what is Tau Dance Company?
It is all about identity. It’s about my—what I am today. And I call myself a modern Polynesian, a modern artist that is uh—contemporary artist that is living in the now, uh, respectfully understanding the base and the traditional base, because that’s my roots. And then trying to project where that will take us, and live—little—leave little gems for our future generations say, That’s what they were about then. And uh, um, hopefully also, the traditional side will survive. Because we—it’s a living culture; the Hawaiian culture is a living culture. And I like to think that Tau Dance Theater will help um … the culture survive on the—on the modern sense of the word. Because I’m—I’m about uh, using Western form to tell traditional stories.
You’ve already mentioned beginnings and endings; uh, when we come back, I’d like to ask you about transitions within your production, and what goes into your head as you—you look to make bridges uh, between genres. That’s when we come back, with Peter Espiritu.
Peter Rockford Espiritu is the founder of the Tau Dance Theater. How’d you get the name, Tau Dance Theater?
Tau is actually my name; it’s a shortened version—it’s Samoan. It’s my middle name. And my name is Ututau, but my family calls me Tau for short. And uh, um, I didn’t know what I was gonna call my—my—my company, and one day it was—I gotta give her credit; it was Melveen Leed who told me, Tau, you should just call your company Tau; Tau Dance Theater. You know, and I said, Well, it’s gonna be Tau Dance Theater. I said, Are you sure? And she says, Everyone’s doing one name thing now; use Tau. It’s Polynesian, it’s easy, you know, and then it’s—and it means more than one thing. So um, I did; I used Tau, and it stuck.
And that’s why you say Pacific Islander, rather than Hawaiian, because you’re Samoan too.
Correct. My father is Hawaiian; he’s half-Hawaiian from Maui. And my mother is actually from Fagatogo, from uh, American Samoa.
Let’s talk about transitions within your productions. You tell stories.
And you go from one genre to another, but those transitions have to make sense. How do you make them flow?
For instance uh, Naupaka, which was the last full evening length work we did, um, the whole idea is to stay open to not trying to just tell a story in one genre, but for instance, uh, uh, when the two lovers meet um, there is tension, um, they’re just meeting, they’re young. And—and uh, and what does that whole scene mean to me? It means that there is uh, entanglement. And what is the genre that I chose? Tango. And I think that that—if you understand the process, um, the—the language that’s singing in is Hawaiian, but it’s still that—that entanglement of it. The—what is that—they’re meeting is gonna cause something, it’s action and reaction. And so uh, in that scene when they dance, uh, we start with tango, but it’s also—there’s a girl on point. Um, uh, what they’re singing about is—is uh, is this love tension happening, and—and with new love, you never know. They’re being drawn to each other, but they don’t know what that is. And—and so a tango was the thing. In the awa section, in uh, Naupaka, it’s about the drink of awa. But what is the cup that is used? It’s a coconut. So we used uh, more of a traditional—well, Samoan coconut style dancing, and—and we used the slap dancing or—or Hawaiian, they use the pai umauma to uh, start it. It’s a very physical kinda male thing. And I use those genres and—to tell that story. So um, my whole as artistic director or as a storyteller through dance and movement is to identify what is the most appropriate movement tool to tell that story. We’re not a halau, so we’re not uh, um, left to uh, confines of one genre. Uh, I use all of the styles possible to tell a story, as long as it helps tell the story, not detract from the telling of it.
Do you ever use traditional Hawaiian music for your modern uh, productions?
I do. Um … now again, you’re talking about tradition. And um, if it’s a—for instance, if it’s a m—if you’re talking about music and tradition, if it’s a mele or an oli that is uh, existing, um, I tend not to touch them. If I do touch them, they—they will pre—be presented in the form that is most um, appropriate. If it’s gonna be, for instance, a Kalakaua chant, it’s gonna be done the way it’s supposed to be in, an olapa style. No changes, no nothing. Um, so we rarely go there. We um, we tend to want to create new uh, oli or mele, and then create—then we can go on from there.
So you write your own music or you have your own music written for your productions.
Correct. Uh, I think it’s safer, and it’s more respectful. That way, um, if you’re gonna touch something, it’s not gonna be um … misused, uh, misinterpreted. And uh, I think it’s safer.
You know, respect is a word you use almost as often as you use identify. But very important to you, both of these concepts.
M-hm. I—I think it’s uh, um, it’s the basis of what Tau Dance Theater is all about. Um, without the—the core base tradition, I’m nothing. Without the traditionalists keeping their traditions alive and—and without people understanding the base, um, I’m just—we’re just a bunch of people jumping around, doing weird things. And that’s not my goal. My goal is to understand that there is a connection. Um, it’s just like modern art against um, against, you know, like a uh, a traditional type of form uh, a s—uh, a study of fruit against, maybe, something like this piece of uh, art. It—there—it could be there. And uh, my job is to help you identify and understand that connection, that piece is connected to this in some way. The hala, the beauty of the—and the scent that it gives off, and the traditions. I’m—I am both of these things. And as a—as a modernist, my job is to uh, help you understand that the reason why I’m here is because of the connection to these. And uh, I wa—I—I’m asking for respect also. I’m ak—and I’m asking for pe—to understand that you have to understand both, and uh, I am asking for respect to um, my genre and where I’m going. ‘Cause I’m not just doing anything; I’m—I’m trying to keep the traditions alive by identifying who I am. So …
To do this, you have to understand all of the genres and yourself.
And not be afraid to take those steps. ‘Cause um, you know, you put something out there, you’re leaving yourself open for people to uh, you know, not agree. And I don’t need you to like my work or agree; I need you to understand that this is one person’s view, my view. I don’t expect to be correct; I just expect you to understand that I’m expressing myself artistically, respectfully, and trying to find my own identity.
Did you ever miss the mark for yourself?
Oh, man; more often than not. And I—I myself sometimes don’t like my own work. And I’m very honest about it. I’m learning, I’m—I’m uh, still a student. And uh, I don’t think I’ll ever master any of it. But um, if uh, uh, I think that sometimes I do miss the mark, and uh, the other thing to remember is to um, apologize if you do miss the mark. It’s—
Well, how—what have you ever had to apologize for?
Well, sometimes I feel like I um … I uh, maybe get close to a line, and uh, I will um—in the um, liner notes of the program say, If for some reason this offends you, uh, that’s never my intention. My intention is to try to identify that there’s a problem, and that—that—maybe that um, my artistic renderings will help you—uh, us as a people to identify those—those problems. Um, and Naupaka was one of those things where I thought um, understanding that … what you do, your actions, will cause a reaction. And maybe your intentions were not to cause uh … any uh, problems, but uh, you have to understand that whatever you do will cause a uh, a reaction.
So what was a reaction that uh, you wish hadn’t happened?
Um … sometimes on my—what I’m doing is misinterpreted, or you know, uh, I think that um—I mean, I know when I first started, a lot of traditionalists did have a problem with what I was doing. And I uh, I think they thought that I was maybe um … uh … maybe um, uh, causing uh, a uh, a problem with understanding uh, the traditional side. But uh, you know, it’s—I don’t know; it’s hard for me to articulate that.
But uh, you put yourself out there, and uh, and uh, you do become something of a lightning rod.
You do. And uh, you—you have to understand, I mean, um—and uh, you—you have to understand, I mean, uh, that um, you have to do your homework and be able to under—explain what it is that you’re trying to say. ‘Cause you know, people might not get what you’re trying to do.
But you know, and—and probably related to some of the leading figures in traditional hula.
I do. Uh, and I continue to study my—my um—my first kumu hula was the late John Kaimikaua. Uh, my auana teacher was the late Uncle George uh, Kananiokeakua uh, Holokai. Um, I now study uh, olapa uh, traditional with Auntie Cissy Akim, and Mel—Melvin Lantaka. Um, uh, I do take ballet class on a regular basis, and take modern with my original modern dance teacher, Betty Jones, who was a founding member of the Jose Limon Modern Dance Company in New York. So I keep my tradition, you know, base solid. But uh, I also try to keep myself open to new things.
So you’re a dancer and a dance student. And um, Tau Dance Theater is a 501C3 nonprofit foundation, and you do everything, right? You—you choreograph, you do the business side, you—the promotional side—
–must be intense.
You market, you fundraise.
How do you all of that?
You know, it’s a—it’s a matter of survival. I mean, I—I have to believe th—that um, eventually the right people will come into play. Um, it’s—it’s real sensitive, what Tau Dance Theater is all about, and uh, uh, the circle is very small. I don’t do that on—I—I don’t do that on purpose; it’s just, you know, if you’re not—the right people have to come. So uh, unfortunately, I do wear many hats, uh, including grant writing, um, budget projections, final reports, keep—making sure our 5013C is healthy, fundraising, and—and the vision of that, as well as kokua groups that I think are—are important to support. Um, it’s all part of the kuleana, and I—I know you understand that, because um, with Lokahi and uh, a lot of other things, uh, you know, you’re—that’s part of who you are, and that’s important to you. So—
But it’s hard to do all of those things well, because they each take time.
They take a lot of time. And uh, um … sometimes I don’t have enough time for just myself. And uh, and we were talking about fishing, and that’s where I—that’s my—my time. Yeah.
And how much fishing do you—how much ulua fishing do you get to do?
Well, uh, I go once a year to the uh, Hilo Casting Club uh, uh, competition where they—they do a state um, um, island wide competition. So I try to go maybe three or four times a year. And uh, um … uh, an—any time I go to Hawaii Island, even for research, uh, I go out and—and fish. If not ulua, maybe small game; which is always good.
So I noticed that even in your recreation, your hobby, uh, you know, you can catch fish that weren’t predators. But ulua are strong, fierce, smart fish, as fish go.
Uh-huh. And they—
An—and that’s what you choose to try to catch.
Yeah; I never thought about that. I never thought about that. It’s—uh, I think it’s challenging, ‘cause you’re—you’re—you’re restricted, once again, to the shore. We’re not doing off—of the boat.
And uh, the elements, and what have you. And—
You’re trying to get them into your turf.
That’s right; they have to—they have to come into that small, little area that you’re at, and hopefully you’ll be successful in catching. And we’ve been pretty successful.
Does your mind really clear when you are out there fishing?
I call it um—I call it artistic detoxation. Um, I think that uh, when I’m fishing, I—I can let go of all the stresses of—of—and it is stressful—and all the—all the things that are my responsibility and kuleana, and I can actually just look at the elements and—and uh, whether we catch fish or not. And I’ve been lucky enough where we usually always do. But um, it’s just [INDISTINCT]. Places like Kau, or Kalowalo, or you know, Hamakua side, or um, uh, Kalapana area; um, these are all Hawaii Island areas, ‘cause that’s where I choose to go and stomp, and—and—and travel. But um, those are … places where my electronics won’t work. I can bring my computer, but it won’t be able to connect, my cell phone might not work, and uh, that—
And that’s a good thing, right?
That’s a great thing. I look forward to it.
Well, when we come back, I’d like to ask you uh, just uh, whether you’ve ever met anybody like yourself, if you’ve sensed a kindred soul. Because you’re complex, you’re very original, very different. Uh, we’ll find out from Peter Rockford Espiritu when we come back.
We’re back on Long Story Short with the founder of the Tau Dance Theater, and that is Peter Rockford Espiritu. Welcome back.
You’re so … different, yet you meld so many ways and are aware of so many genres. And you say you like to keep the Tau Dance Theater small uh, because you need to work with people who truly understand. How many people do you find who—who are kindred souls?
You know, um … actually, there’s a good uh—on average, the dancers that I used about thirteen to fifteen strong. For a large production um, it usually bumps up to double that. But uh … kindred souls. I think uh, uh, collectively, the people that I work with become one for me.
But they don’t have to have the same vision you do; you just have to tell them of your vision right now, right?
Yeah; and they don’t necessarily have to agree with me. They have to be strong enough to call me on things and say, You know, I don’t understand where you’re going with this. So—and uh … yeah; they have to understand what I’m all about, but they also have to be strong within what they do.
And now you’re taking your efforts out to the schools; you’re—you’re—you’re working with kids.
We are. We’ve always been in the school system, and we’ve always done um, youth and outreach. And all—every production we’ve done has always had a educational element. We are actually now in the process of starting a youth group; it’s called Tau W2, like Y squared. And uh, it’s because uh, after ten years of being uh, a company, I felt that it was time to take a step towards uh, really investing in our future. The ideas that this youth group will uh, not only represent us as youth, but down the line. Uh, hopefully, they will be the feeder uh, company to uh, to the Tau Dance Theater, which is the—the adult company.
Are they more open than others, say, to o—to mixing genres, combining?
You know, the—what we’re doing now is identi—helping them identify the different genres. Truthfully, a lot of these uh, youths do one genre. They’ll take—or they’ll go to a school and learn jazz, ballet, tap, and all that. But I—I think a lot of them tend to excel in one form. Or they’ll go and only do one form; they’ll do only jazz, or only ballet, and uh, not understand how all of those genres can actually create a new form. That’s where Tau Dance Theater um … has evolved to. And that’s where our job is to, one, identify—help them identify what the genres are that make Tau Dance Theater, which is ballet, modern, uh, hula, and—and maybe a little jazz, hip-hop. And then understanding how those genres have helped evolve Tau into what it is now.
How are most dancers that you work with at uh, moving from one genre to another? I mean, you’d think most people would be best at one, and they have a second, and they’d have a distant third.
How easy is that for them?
It’s not easy at all. Uh, a lot of my dancers uh, have one form that they are comfortable with. I push them to be comfortable with two or three. Uh, truthfully, many of the dancers who naturally fall into Tau Dance Theater, um, have had hula background, um, uh, but chose Western form. And so uh, uh, I think uh, a lot of them—uh, or they’ve had ballet, and then have had others. I don’t think I have too many that are just, you know, specialty. You know, that’s very rare when I’m—I’m using a dancer that way.
Is there any dance form that you say, Forget it, I’m not putting that in one of my productions? Tap dancing; anything?
Uh, we haven’t done tap yet, and I’m not gonna say no. But uh, also cultural—you know, it’s—it’s hard to fake something, and I don’t ever want to fake something. Um, and so uh, there’s many genres we haven’t done. There’s some that I—uh, there’s not one that I have said no to. There’s some that I would like to, you know.
Um, I think um … Balinese would be interesting. You know, very, very interesting to add into. Uh, I’ve been Bali a couple times, and I—I really like the genre of—of how they move and the—and the expressiveness of the hands and the—and the fingers. And the eyes.
Sounds like that would be very hard to get a grasp on in a short number of years.
I think you’d ha—have to be really selective on how you use it, and—and—and find a special uh, s—uh, someone who understands the movement to help us integrate uh, respectfully, again.
Do you think what you’re doing will always be an alternative form of the arts, or can you see yourself going mainstream with this?
Uh, you know, I—I think um, we, once again, walk that fine line of mainstream. I mean, we do convention work, and we do that kind of um, corporate business kind of thing, where it’s uh—to me, that’s not reality. I mean, and—and I have no problem with that side, ‘cause I …
When’s the last time you used this for a corporate deal?
We just did two major things. We did the Governor’s Ball, which was the March of Dimes uh .. large fundraiser, just this weekend. And uh, my—I—my job was to help connect, once again, the cultural base with corporate identity. And then also, help it … ease into understanding uh, on a fundraising level. A large—
Well, how did you do that?
Well, you know, the—uh, I’m very strong with my cultural ties, and I understand the corporate side. Um, and I understand the connection to it. So for instance, we ended up using uh, elements and uh, for instance, water. Now, culturally sound wise, I—first thing that came into my mind was, ohe, the—the uh, nose flute. So using the nose flute, and going into an oli, going into hula, and then that nose flute transcends into a jazz flute. And now you have a connection. And the jazz flute can go into the corporate—the uh, phonetic movement of the, you know, of every day kind of thing. An—and uh, my … I kept using those kinds of themes; using fire, using earth, and—and—and trying to help translate the Hawaiian base into a corporate theme. Um, the other thing was, we just did uh, Hyundai, which is the Korean car company. And uh, that was another big challenge, ‘cause we were unveiling cars. And so they wanted two different styles. So you know, uh, reinventing what I do, and then trying to keep our integrity, um, will—even when it’s a commercial venture, um, is challenging, but I—I welcome the challenge.
So you were say Hyundai.
How do you translate art at that point?
Um … that’s a good question. I have to identify the car; what is the—what is their vision to that car, and what—how do they want to connect that. So for instance, I had a halau; it was Sonny Ching’s halau, Na—Halau Na Mamo O Puuuanahulu. And they did—the women did uh … the implement number; I think it was Moku—Moku O Keawe, where they did uh, puili, bamboo, uh, uh, ipu, and—and uh, uliuli, and went into uh, Kamapua traditional, uh, the men. And the men did all this whole oli thing, and we went into this whole other—that when the car came, this was where the transition came in, where we had this beautiful kind of goddess girl bring the car in. And uh, and she did this dance, which was part of—you know. So then it wasn’t disrep—disrespectful to the Hawaiian side. And at the end, they wanted this big celebration thing. I chose a mele mai. ‘Cause to me, it was uh, a birth; it was about creation. And—
What is a mele mai?
It’s uh, procreation. And uh, I don’t think they—to this day, they know what it was all about. They loved it. But it was my creative way of using tradition to—to still uh, continue traditions, but at the same time, you know, maybe use the time to educate them.
An—and not everything has to be literal.
In the translation.
–have to be literal. They don’t even have to understand it. And that’s another thing about my productions. Maybe—uh, uh, I try to layer things. You can choose to enjoy just the beauty of the movement and the sound, and the—and the music. Or you can choose to go deeper, ‘cause there’s always gonna be layers, and you can actually dig deeper to try to find the cultural connections to what I’m trying to say.
And you are a person of many layers. You know, I’m—I’m kind of surprised that hala, with its uh, beginnings and endings—
–is—is what you think of. Because you seem to me at the core to be a person of transition and—and bridging.
Uh-huh. But for that transition to happen, there has to be an ending. So it’s not necessarily and ending, but uh, it has to—there has to be a finite thing that happens. I’m good at connecting, and I’m always trying to make it seamless. But at the same time, maybe um, that’s part of what I do, is to make it seem like there is no ending.
And what’s uh, what do you do—what are you gonna connect with next in—in your career?
We are actually working on a uh, piece of work that will honor Poliahu, the goddess of uh, of uh, Mauna Kea and the snow. And uh, we’re going to start to lay down the—the basis to where we’re gonna go with that. That—we’re projecting the winter of 2010.
Well, it’s been wonderful talking with you.
And you’ve been so patient with me; I’ve had a hard time with—with part of your name, because I pronounce it local style.
And you have an artistic um, interpretation. Could you explain that?
Sure. I mean, a lot of people go, Oh, Espiritu. E—Espiritu—
Which I’ve done again, and again, by the way.
Yeah. And—and—and truthfully, a lot of my family members say that. I tend to go more towards the um … the, I guess, Latin version, which is Espiritu, like [LATIN LANGUAGE].
Peter Rockford Espiritu; thank you so much for being with us on Long Story Short.
Thank you for having us. Aloha.