A nearly full moon shines over the bay at Wailua Beach as a pounding drum signals the start of the show.
Out steps Coppin Colburn, shirtless in traditional dress, who blows a long note on a conch.
Coppin is a seasoned performer from a family of entertainers who, along with Pomaika‘i Harris and a talented team of dancers and drummers, commands the stage throughout the Ahi Uila Fire Show at Hilton Garden Inn Kaua‘i Wailua Bay.
The performance — which incorporates elements from all over Polynesia, including Tahiti, Samoa and the Maori of New Zealand — gets more and more dangerous as the night goes along.
A highlight is the fire knives, long, sharpened blades, set ablaze on both ends, a skill that takes years of pain and persistence to master.
“You are gonna get scars,” said Colburn after the show. “You’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to get cut.”
While training, he remembered, he kept getting burned on one spot on his hand until one day he looked down and could see bone.
Shadows dance on the backdrop lit up purple, red and orange, as Colburn and Harris take turns twirling the knives —spinning them rapidly through their legs, behind their back, and tossing them high in the air.
“The whole point of the dance is to prove your manhood,” said Colburn. “So the more you can add to it the better.”
A team of five dancers takes the stage between Colburn and Harris’ stunts, at one point twirling flaming flails so quickly that audience members can feel the heat and smell the smoke.
Maribeth White, a visitor from Oklahoma City, described the dancing as “amazing,” and “like a tornado.”
Later in the show, Colburn and Harri touch the fire to their hands and mouths, and for a few seconds the flames dance on their bodies.
“There’s no trick to it,” said Colburn. “You’re lighting yourself on fire.”
At one point, Colburn and Harris take turns straddling themselves over a flame while dressed in grass skirts, squatting lower and lower with each pass, until they sit on the fire to extinguish it.
“Children, no,” Colburn says after that stunt.
The troupe, which includes many members of Colburn’s family, began touring the mainland consistently last year, performing for celebrities like Michael Jordan, Adele and Kim Kardashian.
The dancers are Kiara Inanod, Kanani Colburn, Erin Hofmann, Elisha Kaneali‘i, Marci Silva and Courtney Teves, and the musicians are Caridyn Colburn, Kiana Colburn and Keli‘i Kaneali‘i.
The performance is part of an evening hosted every Tuesday at the Hilton, which features a meal designed by Executive Chef Rafael Camarillo. This was only the second show held outside since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It feels good to be back at it,” said Camarillo. “Look at all these people. They’re happy, they’re enjoying the show.”
His extensive menu features a grilled orzo salad with balsamic vinaigrette, a macaroni salad — the secret is a lot of hardboiled eggs, he says — and roasted purple Okinawa sweet potato with a mustard dressing, along with vegetarian jasmine fried rice, chow mein noodles and stir-fried vegetables.
For the main course, Camarillo prepared mahimahi in a lilikoi ginger butter sauce and boneless short ribs marinated with pineapple juice and a housemade kalbi sauce.
And for desert —“Who can go wrong with a warm pineapple bread pudding with a coffee caramel sauce, an ultimate brownie and some coconut cake?” asked Camarillo. “C’mon, that’s good stuff.”
The event, which starts at 5:45 Tuesday evenings, costs $94 for general admission and offers a kama‘aina rate of $79.99.
Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or email@example.com.
Source: The Garden Island