UH Hilo alum heads film crew for Hula Bowl Halftime; performance shares Hawai‘i’s culture with country

Tracey Niimi put aside his student services specialist hat to direct and film the stunning Hula Bowl Halftime Show starring fashion designer Manaola Yap, with the award winning Hula Halau Manaola, under the direction of Kumu Hula Nani Lim Yap.

By Susan Enright

Tracey Niimi
Tracey Niimi

A couple of weeks ago, Tracey Niimi, a student support specialist for the pharmacy college at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, received a call from a representative of the Hula Bowl. But the rep wasn’t calling for information about the college, he was calling about Niimi’s photography and video skills.

“My wife and I both graduated from UH Hilo College of Business and Economics back in 2011 before starting our photography business,” Niimi explains. “When COVID hit this past year I had to pivot our business and I started doing video production as well. In 2020 one of the bigger projects I worked on and am still helping with is the Our Kuleana project.”

The Hula Bowl rep asked if Niimi would be able to help with filming a segment for halftime. One of Hawaiʻi’s most iconic fashion designers, Manaola Yap, and award winning Hula Halau Manaola, under the direction of Yap’s mother, Kumu Hula Nani Lim Yap, were scheduled to star during the 2021 Hula Bowl halftime show, and bowl organizers wanted Niimi to direct the performance.

Dancers in Hawaiian dance apparel, yellow and gray fabrics with red headbands.
From left, Miss Aloha Hula 2006 Nāmakana Davis-Lim, Manaola Yap, and Kumu Hula Nani Lim Yap. Photo is a screenshot from the video, click to enlarge.

Due to COVID, the four-and-a-half-minute segment was being created in lieu of the usual live performance. Hula Bowl halftime organizers decided to have a performance created beforehand and use it as an opportunity to share a part of Hawaiʻi’s culture with the rest of the country. Manaola Yap narrated a poetic monologue on what hula means to him while Hālau Manaola performed “A Koaʻekea I Pueohulunui,” during which Yap chanted with his mother by his side.

“Everyone in hula has their own perspective on what hula is so I wanted to respect that and share what hula is to me through what I was taught while growing up,” says Manaola Yap. “Around the world, the view of what hula is has been different. This halftime show is about taking back that cultural narrative and helping the audience to experience the true meaning, essence, and power that hula is.”

A group of dancers on stage.
From left at front, Miss Aloha Hula 2006 Nāmakana Davis-Lim, Manaola Yap, and Kumu Hula Nani Lim Yap. Photo above and the three below are screenshots from the video, click to enlarge.
Kevin Fujitani
Kevin Fujitani
Reid Kubo in golf shirt.
Reid Kubo

The performance was filmed in the Kahilu Theater in Kamuela. Two other UH Hilo alums, information technology specialist Reid Kubo, and Kevin Fujitani, who is one of the owners of Techy3 Studios, another local video production company, were also camera operators on the production team. “Reid and I are both staff members at the pharmacy college, too,” says Niimi.

In fact, Hilo native Niimi assembled an entire team of local video producers to create the segment. “I think we all felt that weight of responsibility to our community to create a piece that not only properly represented the Hawaiian culture, but was a piece that our entire state would be proud of sharing with the rest of our country.”

Film crew filming from the theater seats.
Halau Manaola getting filmed by local video producers Tracey Niimi and Chris Parayno. Behind the scenes photos above and below by Kristie Fujiyama Kosmides, a production assistant during this filming. Click photos to enlarge.

The 75th Hula Bowl kicked off Jan. 31. No spectators were in attendance but the event aired on CBS Sports Network and streamed on the CVS Sports App.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.