Sheraton Oceanfront Luau Reopens

With rhythmic drumming and ukulele strumming, swaying hips and an imu pit, Sheraton Resort’s reopened Oceanfront Luau embraces Kaua‘i’s rich history and culture. ‘Auli‘i Lu‘au, presented by Urahutia Productions, includes Hawaiian-rooted cuisine, authentic costumes and award-winning dancers.

Kaua‘i native Mi Nei Oliver-Martins is the show’s director and founder of Urahutia Productions. In 2000, she earned a diploma from the Conservatoire Artistique Territorial de Papeete, Tahiti.

“I’m the only American to have a diploma from the Conservatoire,” Oliver-Martins says with a sweet smile and modest tone. “You have to be Tahitian to go there, but I had a special invitation.”

In 2004, Oliver-Martins was Miss Garden Isle, and she has won 27 first-place titles in the Tahitian solo dance on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, Hawai‘i and in California. Clearly she knows what it takes to be a champion, and she teaches these skills to her troupe. As a result, most of the girls have earned titles for Miss Kaua‘i, Miss Garden Isle, Tahitian solo dance and are scholarship pageant recipients.

The costumes are like a mashup between Hawai‘i and Las Vegas showgirls. Dancers wear an elaborate wardrobe that includes fresh flowers, skirts made of ti leaves and extravagant red-feather headdresses known as haku.

“I work with some of the best costume designers,” says Oliver-Martins of the outfits designed in Tahiti, Hawai‘i, New Zealand and Samoa.

Although performances represent Polynesia, this traditional-style lu‘au weaves tales of Kaua‘i into individual dances — including a tribute to Elvis Presley, to Kaua‘i’s paniolos, and to the legend of Pele, and her love affair with Lohiau, the prince of Kaua‘i.

“Modern hula implements talk all about Kaua‘i,” says Oliver-Martins. “Halele‘a on the North Shore, Mount Wai‘ale‘ale — we talk about everything that’s great about our island.”

Before the show starts, a conch shell sounds and a whole Kaneshiro Farms pig is unearthed from the nearby imu. As the sun sinks, glinting off the ocean across the street, the band plays Beautiful Kaua‘i and the kalua pig is prepared.

Fire Rock Pale Ale from Kona Brewing Company plus Bud Light, cocktails, wine, water and soft drinks are poured throughout the evening.

Darrell Rapozo plays a breezy rendition of Europa by Carlos Santana on his ukulele as visitors and residents line up at the buffet. Pupus include house-made pipi kaula (Hawaiian-style beef jerky), purple sweet potatoes, Kilauea greens salad, potato-macaroni salad, sesame tofu, chicken long rice, pohole (fiddlehead fern) salad with dried shrimp, lomi lomi salad, kim chee tako (octopus) poke and ahi ogo (ahi poke with seaweed).

We load up on vegetable fried rice, grilled i‘o (beef), i‘a (fish) in a creamy sauce, chicken with Island guava rub, and Island wok veggies. Tender pork wrapped in taro leaves then ti leaves make little lau lau bundles. The poi is smooth with a few pea-sized chunks of taro, and I ladle a spoonful next to chunks of kalua pork, smoky with the essence of ironwood trees and banana leaves, and studded with crunchy bits of Hawaiian sea salt.

Just before the show starts, I load my plate with thick coconut rice pudding that was cooked in the imu. It’s a little caramelized, a little smoky — and delicious. I fill up on it, and only have room for a shimmery cube of haupia. I regret I didn’t save room for the chocolate macadamia nut brownies, coconut cake or pineapple cake.

Tahitian drums build to a hot frenzy, and a row of agile hips manages to keep time with the beat. The show flashes from scene to scene. A man rows to Kaua‘i; ravishing girls in beaded headbands and knitted tops from New Zealand; a muscular young man sings with a smile that shines through his eyes; slender girls in colorful costumes dance, hair spilling to the small of their backs. A sexy cowboy and his sweet cowgirl erotically ride imaginary horses.

Through it all, a sweet, old-fashioned voice sings mostly in Hawaiian. The crowd is silent. Not one person talks. No baby cries.

It’s dark when the Samoan fire dance begins. Chief Tussi spins lit wands to a pulsing drum rhythm that’s faster than an Olympian’s heartbeat. He touches the flame to his tongue for a good three seconds, then tosses his wands into the air, lighting up the night.

I’m swept along on a seductive voyage, and before I know it, the show’s over. The aloha radiates from the stage, saturating the crowd in love and light.

Po‘ipu Oceanfront Luau Sheraton Kaua‘i Resort $95 for adults $45 for ages 5-12 $65 for ages 13-17 Call 634-1499 or visit Sheraton-Kauai.com

Marta Lane is a freelance food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com

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