photo: Daren Miller

Various people and organisations often speak of a sustainable life here by taking care of the land and doing what is right. This can be a contentious issue on how best to do this, and a challenge to find a balance. One group that is taking on this challenge is Wai Company with a focus on the effects of GMO on the land and life here with their production, Malama Hawai‘i. And they are taking this message to the biggest and original Fringe Festival: Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. To get there they are fundraising to make this a reality and in doing so will highlight on an international level their voice for the betterment of Hawai‘i, a sustainable life by taking of the land.

What does mālama ‘āina mean to your company?
What mālama ‘āina means to our company is a kuleana, a responsibility, that we have to Hawai‘i, to the planet, to the Hawaiians, to non-Hawaiians, to the land, sky, ocean. It is the responsibility to take care of that which takes care of us – to take care of each other and to protect one another from harm. When one engages in mālama ‘āina, one reaches a very high level of respect and honor. It goes beyond just the physicality of the land, it is highly spiritual and takes a certain mental awareness and sensitivity. We realize, like so much of what our kupuna have been saying to us, that we are all connected, that we are one.

When you hear “mālama ‘āina’, emotionally what does it stir up in you?
I am stirred with many feelings when I hear and feel what mālama ‘āina is. First I feel privileged to have been raised here in Hawai‘i, and even though I am not native Hawaiian, I feel a certain honor to have been hānai here and that principles like mālama ‘āina, kuleana, and ‘ohana have been instilled in me from the Hawaiians that have raised and loved me with aloha. Mālama ‘āina teaches me to be humble yet aware of my own strength. With so much conflict, injustices, and corruption in this world, the very fact that I can grow food in my garden, do beach clean-up, recycle, help in the lo‘i kalo, or even create a dance about it – all these things can help quell the anguish and powerlessness I can feel when I think about the world in terms of its ecological and socio-political health.

How did Wai Company come about the topic of GMO for Mālama Hawai’i, and why the focus on this?
I may be the Director and Choreographer of Wai Company, but I work very collaboratively. I remember about 8 months ago, when the O‘ahu version of Wai Company first started to come together, we had a small pā‘ina at my hale. We brought food and drinks and I explained to the company that I wanted to start on a new project that would take us on a journey. I had some ideas, but since we are really small, I wanted to hear from them where their passions and interests lie. So after going around talking about certain topics like cultural identity, colonialism, Hawai‘i, and freedom, we all keep coming back to food and GMO. And when we began to really look into GMO in Hawai‘i, we saw the deep connections to colonialism, corporate powers, injustice, and environmental threats – issues that have really impassioned the company.

Hawai‘i is paradise for many people visiting and of course for those that live here, but to an international audience the “supposed paradise” image is very attractive – GMO may be the last thing on peoples’ mind. Do you think discussing and presenting a show about GMO will be understood?
I think so – or at least I hope so. And if not, I hope that Mālama Hawai‘i will get people thinking about food, where it comes from, how its grown, what their ancestors did, and what modern society is doing in terms of food production, and its environmental and health connections. Basically we are creating this dance theater to make people think. Also, I feel that the existing agencies who have devoted their time and energy to food sovereignty, to lobbying for labeling of our food, to having non-GMO foods, and those that support organic farmers – are looking for other ways to talk about this topic. The arts are that way. The arts can be used to reach different kinds of audiences and get them interested or at least informed about what GMO means in Hawai‘i and in the world. I must say too that Wai Company realizes the huge complexity of GMO in our modern times, and we realize too the technological advances that GMO have helped and can help our societies. It’s not so black and white. What is clear to us however is the total disregard certain GMO practices have to the environments, peoples, and cultures – and this is what we want to expose.

What do you feel will be the biggest challenge in getting to such an esteemed international fringe festival?
The biggest challenge is both simple and complex – money. We are learning so much in this process of getting to Edinburgh. And at the same time, we have been “forced” to stay focused and keep creating and working despite the lack of money. We make do with what we’ve got, we are creative, and we are determined. Of course money can really help by relieving some of the stresses that we already have, but we ho‘omau, we keep going forth with our endeavor. If we are not here to dance, then what else do we do? Haha…

You’ve gathered an amazing group of performers / artists – was it difficult to find the right mix for this production? And where did you find them?
I prayed for them. The difficult thing was just to let go and trust. I put myself out there and asked ke Akua to give me what I need, its very vulnerable, even this interview, to put yourself out there, to be heard, seen – to make mistakes. I am one of those sensitive artists that have had to learn to toughen my skin, not so that I don’t feel, but so that I don’t get too hurt when I am criticized and keep doing what I believe in. Once I accepted that, I will never please everyone, I let go and they came. The artists and performers that I have worked with and continue to work with came to the company because it is a good fit for them and they aligned with the company’s mission. Since all of us in the company come from many different disciplines and styles, I have to really look at their strengths and weaknesses and find a way to make everyone look “good” and in their power. It’s a learning process. I definitely push people to their physical, spiritual, and mental limits – but that’s what the company members want. They want to be awakened, as do I, to our best, to our potential while accepting where we are today.

What is the feeling within the group right now about this project and the magnitude of your mission?
We are extremely excited about this journey we are on. We feel very good about our mission and stoked to see where it will take us. We are working really hard, but you know, because it is so much fun, its not really work. We play really hard and so this is a huge gift. We are very grateful to be able to dance – and to dance about a topic we all feel so passionate about!

How important is it for you to establish a professional dance theater company in Hawai‘i, and to make it become sustainable?
My ego says that this is important to me and for the dance scene in Hawai‘i, but I am not too attached to it either. I take each day as it comes. I have seen and have heard many stories of dance companies starting and failing that I am realistic about the future of Wai Company. With that said, I have committed myself to really giving Wai Company a real chance at success. I mean I have to give 200% to this or else I’ll regret not doing so. I am not the young buck I used to be, so this is the time to do it. I really hope Wai Company can become what it hopes to be, a beacon for contemporary and aerial dance in Hawai‘i with a sensitivity to indigenous values and practices. A dance theater company that teaches, performs, and supports its local, national, and international audiences and enriches the arts wherever we are invited to go.

Thank you.
For more information on Wai Company and their fundraising campaign, please visit Thank you for your support.

O’ahu Fringe Festival wishes Wai Company all the very best on its journey to Scotland.