Working wonders with dance


HAWI — In French, “merveilles” means wonders. At Camp Merveilles, numerous musical wonders will be in the works throughout their 4th annual drum and dance conference, produced by the Lavaroots Performing Arts Company in Hawi and the Kissidugu Foundation.

“What’s exciting this year, is that we will have our conference at the Kohala Institute at Iole,” said Michal Anna Carrillo, Lavaroots’ founder and director. “There are deep Hawaiian cultural connections on that land — the newly renovated former Bond Estate. We are going to be some of the first people to stay there.”

Events will commence Oct. 22 with activities continuing through Nov. 12. In a rare opportunity for Big Island residents, prominent teachers of West African dance will lead classes, performances and a unique culture-sharing experience. Faculty members are Gabriel Fara Tolno, Youssouf Koumbassa, Fode Bangoura, Marietou Camara, Naby Bangoura, Lamine Bangoura, Soriba Fofana and Sekou Camara. Hula teachers include Hope Keawe and Leia Lawrence, and yoga instructors are Maya Parish and Jamie Belmarez.

“The program is a cultural connector,” Carrillo said, “with oral tradition, family values, music that has stories, and a sense of purpose and presence.”

Full conference rates are available, along with daily rates, drop-in classes and evening events.



“In college I took West African dance classes,” said Carrillo, a dancer since age 5. “Then I came to the Big Island and actually pursued it because there were teachers here — Dawn Robertson and Sean Areneda. The drums drew me in, the movements themselves and the overall depth of the music, dance and culture.”

She started teaching in 2002, and in 2003 met Gabriel Fara Tolno, dance teacher and future founder of the Kissidugu Foundation, a nonprofit creating a school of music, dance and education in Guinea, West Africa. After 12 years studying dance and music from Guinea, she visited for the first time and fully embraced the people, place and culture.

In 2014, she went back to Guinea, and they purchased land to build the school. Today, as development director/vice president for Kissidugu, Carrillo returns each year.

“We have three weeks of teaching, one week of service,” she said.

Their group fundraises throughout the year to bring water filters, solar lights and medical needs to the region.

“Last year we brought 30 million gallons of water to Guinea via water filters,” Carrillo said.

Food for the soul

The third element of her vision is Lavaroots’ Rhythm of the Soil program, supported by Bill Healy Foundation, North Hawaii Rotary and the Kohala Lions Club. Now in its second year, the program brings dance and organic gardening together in Kohala Elementary School, Innovations Public Charter School and Kona Pacific Public Charter School. Students will perform with Tolno and other Camp Merveilles teachers for their schools’ assemblies.

“We are singing in the garden, using rhythm, giving that energy, that mana, to our food,” said Carrillo. “And the students are learning an ‘ag dance’ for harvesting.”

The result is tasty food and a crop of students who have discovered new passions and talents in themselves through drumming, dancing and gardening.

“A little at a time, they realized they are amazing creators,” she said.

Last year, her Kohala Elementary School students raised $240 for water filters for the people of Guinea, one dollar at a time.

“That’s four million gallons of water and four solar lights,” Carrillo said. “When I told them that’s what they were sending to Africa with me, the gratification on their faces was amazing. To see them know that their one dollar is helping families on the other side of the planet is truly empowering for them. When we work together, we truly can create a positive outcome. We are one people, one planet.”

Info on 2017 Guinea trip:

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