by twinink on August 15, 2016
(This article appeared in the Aug-Sept 2016 Hana Hou Magazine)
by twinink on February 25, 2014
As announced by Mike Fleming Jr at www.deadline.com
by twinink on January 21, 2014
A lovely local write-up from Mike Gordon at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser: (click image to expand)
by twinink on January 13, 2014
Every year, 250 studio executives vote on the year’s best unproduced scripts, with the winners making it onto the Blacklist. Of the past five Best Picture winners, three (Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, Argo) were on the Blacklist. In addition, seven (Juno, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, The Descendants, Django Unchained, Argo) have won for Best Screenplay, adapted or original, in the past six Oscars.
Our script “The Golden Record” was nominated in the top 10 scripts of 2013!
by twinink on January 13, 2014
Honored to have our script “The Golden Record” voted #6 on the Hit List of 2013’s best spec screenplays.
THE GOLDEN RECORD by Aaron Kandell & Jordan Kandell
Inspired by the incredible true story of how Carl Sagan fell in love while leading the wildest mission in NASA history: a golden record to encapsulate the experience of life on earth for advanced extraterrestrial life.
Romance | Drama
Verve | Adam Levine, Rob Herting, Tanya Cohen
Hopscotch Pictures | Sukee Chew
Hopscotch Pictures producing.
Sukee Chew producer.
Identical twins that graced the 2013 Young & Hungry List, the duo have projects set up at Paramount, Heyday, Warner Bros. and RKO.
by twinink on November 27, 2013
We were honored to be included on this year’s list of upcoming writers.
THE TOP 100 WRITERS ON THE VERGE!
Every year a new YOUNG AND HUNGRY LIST is compiled from across the industry, cultivating the top writers currently running with some heat, and landing on the most shortlists across town. The list focuses on the new voices and fresh blood hitting Hollywood and making names for themselves. All writers on these lists were voted on by some of the biggest film and television executives, producers, agents, managers, and directors. Some are much more established than others, but all of them are currently riding the buzz!
STRANDED | THE FAMILY TREE | UNTITLED WB PROJECT
Verve | Tanya Cohen, Rob Herting, Adam Levine
Hopscotch Pictures | Sukee Chew
Identical twins that currently have projects set up at Warner Brothers, Paramount & RKO.
by twinink on November 1, 2013
(This article appeared in the June-July 2014 Hana Hou Magazine)
On a frigid February morning in Manhattan, with snow threatening citywide gridlock, Hawai‘i-born Cole Horibe arrives through the flurries—on time not just to the minute but to the second. He’s dressed like a futurisitic ninja out of The Matrix: black cross-stitched bullet jacket, black tunic, black pants. He even sports a vicious black eye. “During Saturday night’s performance I took a stray fist across the face,” Horibe cooly shrugs. “The fight choreography is pretty intense. We’re still working out the kinks.”
As the star of the new off-Broadway play Kung Fu, which charts the formative years of celebrated martial arts legend Bruce Lee, Horibe is used to rolling with the punches. “It’s not an easy role,” admits the play’s director, Leigh Silverman. “We’ve created a new dramatic form—the dance-ical—where you have to be able to dance, fight and have the acting chops to carry an audience for two hours, eight performances a week, not to mention convincingly personify Bruce Lee. Yet Cole miraculously embodies all those unique abilities.” In many ways “it’s like he was custom-tailored for this part,” says the play’s illustrious writer, David Henry Hwang, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and the Tony Award-winning dramatist of M. Butterfly, which established Hwang as the most famous Asian-American playwright in American theater. Horibe is hoping the part will propel him closer toward his own boyhood dream of becoming the most famous Asian-American actor since Lee. “Lee was the first to really break through those barriers of the stereotypical Asian male,” says Horibe. “Forty years later you’d think somebody would have further bridged that gap, but it hasn’t happened yet. I want to be that bridge.”
That lofty goal might not be so far off. In 2012 Horibe exploded into the spotlight on season nine of the competitive reality show So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD). His theatrical flair, paired with an electrifying hybrid dance style that Horibe calls “martial arts fusion,” caught the attention of the judges and won the votes of a legion of fans. What set Horibe apart on the show, aside from a chameleon-like versatility, was his intensity. “My wife first saw Cole and was blown way by him,” recalls Hwang, who at the time was struggling to cast Kung Fu’s iconic lead. Watch any performance from the show, whether an emotional contemporary routine about addiction, hard-hitting hip-hop or a predatory paso doble—and it’s easy to understand why millions tuned in week after week to watch Horibe both piroutte and punch his way to become one of the top six finalists. When Horibe takes the stage, it’s not just dance; it’s combat. He moves like a coiled serpent, at once languid and lightning-fast, ready at any moment to strike and stick a pose. “What makes a star is truly an unquantifiable quality,” says Hwang. “Some people just radiate a kind of energy that makes an audience want to look at them. It’s a very specific talent you are either born with or not. Cole has that sparkle.”
As a shy boy growing up in Hawai‘i, far removed from the bright lights of Broadway, Horibe always knew that he wanted to be an actor. “My parents instilled in us that we could pursue our dreams,” says Horibe. “But I was a strange kid. I didn’t have friends.” According to his older brother Cale, “Cole was an early bloomer, always three steps ahead of everyone else. He planned his life from a young age, and every decision has been designed toward that end goal. He’s never veered from that path.” While this singular drive formed the bedrock of his adult success, it painted kid Cole as a precocious outlier. The bullying started early and lasted well into high school. “Kids would spit on him when he’d walk by, constantly try to pick fights,” claims Cale. Throughout elementary, “during recess and lunch I would go hide in the bathroom and cry,” says Horibe.
His father, a rough country boy from Kaua‘i who suffered bullies throughout his own adolescence, put his three kids into intensive martial arts. From the age of four, Horibe studied judo, aikido and taekwondo; later he added wushu. At ten he won silver at the Junior Olympics. At 18 he ranked second in the National Collegiate Championship. The final fights in both competitions were very close: down to the last point of the last kick. And both times Horibe lost because he refused to retreat. “The only time I will stop fighting, that I will ever back off, is if I realize I’m doing something for the wrong reason,” he says. Ironically, for five years between his championship matches, Horibe did just that: He abandoned martial arts when he realized his heart wasn’t invested in competition. “It felt like a distraction from my true passion,” he says. And so in his freshman year he convinced his parents to make the long commute from Honolulu to the Windward side, to a new school renowned for its performing arts program: Castle High. Here Horibe threw himself headfirst into musical theater, performing in numerous school productions and local community plays. Yet he remained the insulated introvert, more cerebral and sensitive than his gregarious fellow gleeks. Forced to the periphery, Horibe felt like the outsider looking in.
Social redemption, or at least acceptance, finally arrived from an unlikely outlet: Cole’s older sister Cara took him under her wing and introduced him to the world of dance. Accomplished in her own right, Cara is a former University of Hawai‘i Rainbow Dancer who went on to compete in America’s Best Dance Crew and perform on tour with Janet Jackson and Nicki Minaj. Together the siblings enrolled in classes at 247 Danceforce, a Käne‘ohe-based performance studio that emphasizes storytelling and characters. Former SYTYCD finalists Mark Kanemura and Pono Aweau both graduated from this school. “I didn’t know dance could be like that,” Cole recalls. “It was like acting!”
For three years Horibe danced obsessively. “I stopped everything else,” he says. “Dance took over my life completely.” He found a niche, friends and a sense of confidence and depth that had been missing. But for a martial arts disciple, performance didn’t come as easily. “I never saw myself an an innately talented dancer,” Cole admits. “What I lack in ability I counterattack through discipline.” Everyone who talks about Cole mentions his grit. “He’s an ultra-perfectionist,” states Cara. “Everything he does is meticulous, practiced, precise.” Kung Fu director Silverman backs up this claim: “Cole is the most disciplined actor I’ve ever met,” she says. “A total machine,” agrees Sonya Tayeh, the play’s Emmy-nominated choreographer, who worked intensively with Horibe on SYTYCD. “We often feel like his two moms,” says Silverman. “We have to force him to go home and rest. Otherwise he’ll never stop training.”
When Bruce Lee famously stated that “the succesful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus” he could well have been describing Cole.Success never came easily for either man; the strength to endure a difficult path was forged, for both Horibe and Lee, as much through tribulation as triumph. By 22, Horibe admits, “I was still living at home. I had nothing going for me except this huge dream and zero momentum toward achieving it.” Five years before, he’d quit dancing to pursue acting nonstop. And while he’d starred in a couple of student films, his career was going nowhere. A black hole of depression set in that nearly ended late one night when Horibe took a knife from the kitchen and pressed it to his heart. “It wasn’t a cry for help,” Cole reflects. “I’m the type of person, when I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”
What brought Cole back from the brink was a timely phone call from his brother Cale, who that night posed a simple question that has become Cole’s mantra: “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” Horibe had a moment of realization that snapped him back on track. “I woke up the next morning and it was like a phoenix … whoosh,” he says, swooping his arms overhead. “I went straight to the studio to train.”
Where most dancers peak in their twenties, Horibe started all over from scratch. He finished his degree at UH; worked long hours as a bookkeeper at Hairscapes, his dad’s salon; then spent all night practicing like a prizefighter. “I gave myself a finite amount of time,” says Horibe, “three years to get good.” His sweat equity paid off. Six months after recommiting himself to dance, Horibe entered Destination Groove: Dance Hawaii, a local version of SYTYCD. “I wasn’t even going to audition,” Cole laughs. He ended up winning the show.
Straight away, people began pressuring him to apply for the national competition. In 2011 he went as far as accompanying his cousin through the grueling season eight audition process, only for nerves to get the better of both. To excel on the show requires technical skill across diverse styles, so to prepare Horibe threw himself into every dance class he could, from contemporary to ballroom to ballet. “Other dancers would come out of a three-hour choreography and be at 90 percent. I would come out at 40 percent,” he says. Even when he won a top spot in season nine and headed to Los Angeles to compete, Horibe never stopped training. While the other contestants relaxed by the pool, he would rent a studio out of his own pocket and rehearse until late in the night, sleeping only two hours every day. “I was killing myself on that show.”
Horibe’s intense focus isolated him from the other dancers. Much as he had in elementary school, he found himself the odd man out. But by now he’d learned to embrace his individuality. Or as Bruce Lee famously taught: “Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add uniquely what is your own.” In Kung Fu, Horibe portrays a young Lee struggling, and perpetually failing, to carve a name in spite of his abundant talents. And while Horibe is hesitant to acknowledge any comparisons between himself and Lee, the parallels are undeniable. In a vicious street brawl scene—the one that earned him his black eye—Horibe lunges across the stage like an uncaged tiger, mauling a gang of teenage bullies. As the son of a famous Chinese-opera star and a young child actor himself, Lee was also a constant target of violence. To defend himself, at 13 Lee trained under legendary Wing Chun master Yip Man, becoming in a short time one of his top pupils. Lesser known is how Lee, at 18, won the Hong Kong cha-cha championships. “What you see in Bruce Lee is the ability to be flexible, even in the face of incredible adversity, to follow his dreams,” says David Henry Hwang. “The same is true in Cole.” Where Lee integrated the agility and grace of dance into a revolutionary style of fighting, Horibe incorporated the power and fluidity of kung fu into a unique form of dance. This mastery and cross-pollination of diverse passions has served to define and set both men apart.
On the third night of previews for Kung Fu, Horibe dance-fights his way through an intense martial arts number. He pirouettes to avoid a rushing attacker, then roundhouse-kicks three more thugs in a breathtaking ballet. But it’s the next scene, devoid of dance spectacle, in which Horibe really shines, humanizing, through the subtlety of his acting, Bruce Lee the man.Horibe even perfectly captures the broken-English sing-song of Lee’s personal martial arts philosophy: “Only thing important: heart. You have the right heart, you arrive at the proper destination.”
The next day, outside the glare of the spotlight, Cole puts that same theme, which has guided his own journey, in his own words. “A lot of people experience a lot worse than I did, and that, more than anything, is why I feel it’s important to share my story,” he says. “Because you have a choice. We have the ability to create reality with our minds, for better or worse.”
All over New York this week, nearly everywhere you turn, Horibe is there. Billboards plaster the subway showing him shirtless in mid-aerial kick. His chiseled profile appears on the cover of Playbill and in the pages of The New York Times. Entertainment Weekly voted Horibe one of “fourteen rising stars to watch in 2014.” There is a buzz in the air, a rising tide of awareness that—not two years prior—Horibe dreamed of but never thought possible. “You grow the most when you’re given opportunities you don’t feel ready for,” he humbly confesses. “And I’m still very much growing.”
by twinink on October 11, 2013
(This article appeared in the Oct-Nov 2013 Hana Hou Magazine)
The third time his thumb popped out of its socket, the pain brought Chad Owens to his knees. But he gritted his teeth and popped the thumb right back in. Owens was only midway through the 2012 Canadian Football League’s regular season, and with eight more games ahead, he had a plan. For many football players, injuries are a one-way ticket to the bench. But nothing— not a dislocated thumb, not even torn ligaments in his left wrist — was going to stop Owens from achieving his goal: to become the greatest all-purpose yards receiver in the history of pro football.
At five feet eight inches and 180 pounds, 31-year-old Owens looks like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s younger brother. He’s fit, charismatic, as agile with his words as he is on the field. To watch him sprint with a ball is to watch a man defy laws of speed, physics, football. He possesses an almost preternatural ability to split the defense, to find holes and shake linebackers like he’s repelling pesky fleas. But despite these skills, success never came easy. “Growing up playing ball, I was good, but I was never the top guy,” Owens admits. As a result, he wasn’t actively recruited out of high school. He had to “walk on” to the University of Hawai‘i’s practice squad to prove himself worthy against the players who were already guaranteed positions. On the last day of freshman training camp, he was the last man added to the team.
Looking back, it seems impossible that Owens barely made the cut. Over his illustrious career as a UH Warrior on coach June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense, Owens became a college superstar. He shattered school records as a senior with 102 receptions and seventeen touchdowns. To this day he holds Hawai‘i’s record for career leader in all-purpose yards: 5,461 total over forty-four games. Nationally he earned second-team All-American honors, and he still shares the NCAA record for the most touchdowns scored on kick returns in a career. In 2004 he was the recipient of the Mosi Tatupu Award for special teams player of the year.
But more than his stats, Owens was entertaining to watch. Small and unbelievably fast, his collegiate acrobatics made him a local celebrity. When he walked down the beach, bikini-clad coeds recognized him. The ego of a 20-year-old could easily have touched the clouds, yet Owens kept his feet firmly rooted to the ground. He tells a story of when he was 12 years old, biking home from school. “I reached a fork in the road. Straight ahead led home. Left, to my best friend Blake’s house.” He turned left and met a girl named Rena. They ended up going to the same school. Playing truth or dare. Sharing their first kiss. They’ve been together ever since, and he credits her for his unwavering focus. While his teammates were doing upside-down keg-stands in the dorms, Owens was in a delivery room making the most important catch of his life: his firstborn son, Chad Jr. The next year, after graduation, he married Rena.
It was widely assumed post-college that Owens would be a first-round draft pick, a rookie shoo-in for the NFL. To his disappointment, he was drafted in the sixth round. It felt like being the last kid picked in elementary school, he says. “But hey, I’m in the NFL,” he recalls thinking, “I’m thankful for the opportunity.” After a lifetime of being underrated, he thought he’d finally proved himself worthy. He wouldn’t have guessed that the real gauntlet was about to be thrown.
Everyone’s heard the truism that “it’s hard to be a professional athlete,” but few are aware of the statistics that back up that phrase. Of the eighty thousand students who play college football every year, an average of 1,500 get scouted by professional teams. Of those, only 250 are selected during the official seven-round draft. That’s only one-third of one percent. Even then a player isn’t guaranteed a spot on his team’s active roster. There are current stars to compete with and undrafted free agents, all angling for one of only fifty-three positions per team. Make it through all that and you still might never play a single season game: The real golden tickets go to the lucky eleven who earn the starting line.
The moment Owens reached the NFL, everything spiraled down. He was no longer a hometown hero, a big fish. Instead, as one of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ last three draft picks, he suddenly found himself at the bottom of a giant pyramid. A nobody. A minnow. “In the NFL the opportunity is so slim,” says Owens, “you gotta be perfect every single day. Everything you do, you’re under a microscope. A lot of guys pressure out.”
There are many who would argue that that’s exactly what happened to Owens. In his NFL debut in 2006, Owens muffed three punts. And just like that, they benched him. Waived him to the practice squad. For the next two years he got traded around: from the Jaguars to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before finally trading out of the NFL altogether. “I was at the top,” Owens raises one hand high, then slams it down onto his thigh, “and I got knocked all the way down.”
He ended up in the short-lived, high-impact Arena Football League (AFL) because they paid room and board. At this point he’d just had his third child, Sierra, and there was real money to be made in the AFL. But the risks were bigger. Guys were hitting harder. It wasn’t long before Owens blew his anterior cruciate ligament, a potentially career-ending injury. He nearly quit then and there. “All I could ask myself was, ‘Why me?’ With a family I had a different pressure. It was all on me: ‘If I don’t achieve this, we’re gonna fall.’”
Today, looking back, Owens views his knee injury as a long-overdue wake-up call. “I let the NFL change me,” he acknowledges. “I was so focused on myself that I wasn’t thinking about my family. My middle daughter, Areana, her first three years … I can’t tell you much about what we did together. I’m heartbroken by that.”
Owens vowed to make it back, to rise from the ashes and play ball again. Only this time he sharpened his commitment. “Since that moment it’s been all about my family,” he says. Perched on the wave-washed rocks overlooking Kewalo Basin and Point Panic, he stares back toward Kaka‘ako Park and smiles as he watches his two daughters race each other across the park’s grassy hills. “They are involved in everything I do,” he says. Over the year following his injury, Owens spent the most stressful period of his life battling grueling pain in intensive rehab. Several times he came close to throwing in the towel, but his kids were always there to encourage him, his wife by his side to pick him up.
In 2009, when Owens finally got signed to the practice roster of the Montreal Alouettes in Canada, he didn’t care that he’d been traded to a different country at a reduced salary of only $500 a week; he was just happy to be back in a locker room. Like most Americans, Owens admits he knew almost nothing about Canadian football or its 130-year history. He had to quickly learn the variant rules: how a CFL field is more than ten yards longer and wider; how there are twelve players on the field instead of eleven; how offense gets only three downs instead of four. It took him the whole year to get his confidence back, but by that point he’d fallen way down the depth chart of the Alouettes’ more veteran bench. In a fourth-round draft, he was traded yet again to the then-floundering Toronto Argonauts.
“Once that year was done,” says Owens, “I wasn’t satisfied to just be in the building. It was time to finally launch.” At the opening of the 2010 CFL season, in his first game playing for the Argonauts, Owens ran a ninety-yard punt return, blowing past five defenders. It was his first major scoring run in more than five years. “Instantly a weight lifted off my shoulders that I’d been waiting to shake off since 2005. I had to go through so many obstacles to grow. And that moment …” Owens stops to gather his emotions. “I was almost in tears going back to the sidelines. From that moment the blessings just kept pouring out.”
Over the next three years, Owens’ explosive speed and balletic feet rocketed him to stardom. He became the only player in pro football history—not just in Canada, but in all of North America—to surpass three thousand all-purpose yards in three consecutive seasons. This past season alone, he led the CFL in receiving (ninety-four catches for 1,328 yards and six touchdowns), return yards (2,510) and all-purpose yards (3,863), surpassing the previous record held by his mentor, Michael “Pinball” Clemens. He is the third player in CFL history to hit a 100-100-100 game: recording 100 yards on six receptions, 111 yards on four kickoff returns and 105 yards on seven punt returns. And with an average 221 yards per game, he not only propelled his team to a Grey Cup victory (Canada’s equivalent of the Super Bowl), he was also named the league’s Most Outstanding Player.
“At the start of the season, I made a list of impossible goals to keep me motivated,” says Owens. “The fact that I was able to check off all those boxes, it’s a miracle. If I retired right now, I’d be …”— he can barely finds the words—“more than happy with my career. It’s a dream come true.” But more than anything else, “to think that my kids were right there, my family was on the field with me getting this award … this is the stuff they’ll remember forever.” Does he ever think of returning to the NFL? “Sometimes I wish I could go back to that moment, give it another shot,” he says of being in the league. “But there’s a danger to that mentality. I’ve changed my commitment. I’m only looking ahead.”
We all have two stories: the one we tell ourselves and the myth that gets told about us. When it comes to Chad Owens’ heroic rise, there’s a temptation to portray him as the patron saint of athletic perseverance. Canadian fans adore him for his underdog roots. In Toronto’s bars and newspapers, Owens’ stats are listed with a reverence reserved for Herculean feats. “It’s crazy. At home I’m just a local boy, but in Canada …” Owens shakes his head in disbelief. “You put in the hard work and this is the reward: A whole country knows your face.” Even at home in Hawai‘i, Governor Neil Abercrombie officially pronounced December 15, 2012, “Chad Owens Day.”
For Owens himself the story is much simpler. “The odds were against me from the day I was born. I was born a month and a half premature, weighed three pounds. I’ve been fighting since day one,” he says, pointing at the heart tattoo across his lower ribs and the four words inked there: faith, love, perseverance, family.
When he was home this spring, during the CFL’s off-season, Owens brought his fight to a new and quite literal level, incorporating mixed martial arts into his training routine. On April 6 he made his official debut in the ring, fighting at the Neal Blaisdell Arena under the nickname Mighty Mouse and winning a unanimous two-round bout against amateur welterweight Junyah Tevaga. To some the bout may have seemed like a bizarre departure from football, but for Owens it was just another notch on his battle belt. And the football field will always be his coliseum.
That same game Owens dislocated his thumb, he came back to catch four passes and nine kicks for 126 yards. The rest of the season he played with his hand in a cast, wrapped in tape and hidden beneath a glove. No one suspected he was injured, not that it would have mattered. Despite the pain, despite playing with only one good arm, Owens was unstoppable. He had a plan, the same one he’s always had: Never give up.
by twinink on February 11, 2013
(This article appeared in the Feb-March 2013, Hana Hou Magazine)
The video—grainy black-and-white and recorded in 1942—is showing its age, but the movements of the dancer it depicts retain a grace undiminished by time. Lithe and strikingly beautiful, 26-year-old Jean Erdman raises a perfectly extended leg, toes pointed like a sharpened dagger. Her arms extend at precise geometric angles, evoking the two-dimensional paintings on a Grecian urn. Her fingers writhe: ten coiled, hissing snakes. As she dances through The Transformations of Medusa, her entire body contorts until, with a perfect, snarling pirouette, she transforms into something at once dynamic and explosive: the untamed Queen of the Gorgons, ready to devour any mortal man.
Seventy years later, sitting in her modest apartment nestled at the base of Diamond Head on O‘ahu’s Gold Coast, Jean Erdman looks far less fearsome. Her nails are painted coral red, and she wears a faint touch of lipstick—a detail one notices because of the frequency of her smile. Now 96 years old, Jean remains astonishingly spry. Despite the occasional memory lapses that have descended in recent years, her brown eyes glisten with a youthful joie de vivre that reflects a casual, almost childlike spirit. “The good thing is I don’t remember any of the bad things,” she laughs. “But the bad thing is I don’t always remember some of the good things, either.” What’s never left her, though, is her love of dance. “From the moment I could stand, I was dancing,” says Jean. “Growing up in Hawai‘i, it came to me as naturally as swimming. I don’t know why I do it; it’s just something that’s always been inside me.”
In a career that spanned five decades, Erdman earned herself a prominent place in the pantheon of American dance, performing in close collaboration with an impressive cross section of America’s most celebrated artists, including Merce Cunningham, Donald McKayle and Martha Graham. Scattered throughout her apartment hang framed accolades that reveal both the depth and effect of her legacy: Obie and Vernon Rice awards, a lifetime achievement award from the National Dance Association, even a Tony nomination. “She’s inarguably one of the pioneers of early modern dance,” says Bob Walter, president of the Joseph Campbell Foundation, which Jean created to honor her late husband, the world-famous mythologist. “Most of the lions of contemporary dance today cut their teeth with Jean.”
Jean Erdman Campbell was born on O‘ahu on February 20, 1916, from the union of two influential kama‘aina families. Her father, John Erdman, was a local pastor, descendant of a long line of missionaries. Her mother, Marian, was a daughter of the Dillinghams, wealthy titans of Hawai‘i industry. Marian was an avid patron of Hawaiian music and art, and Jean, along with her three sisters, started learning hula at the age of four. While her sisters eventually stopped dancing, Jean never did. She continued on to study Isadora Duncan’s style of interpretative dance as a student at O‘ahu College (which later became Punahou School). In a class photo dated 1933, a teenage Jean in bobbed hair and cheerleader sweater poses on the football field. In another shot, Jean dances barefoot in the sand outside her family’s ranch on Mokulë‘ia beach, her arms outstretched as though ready to fly.
And fly she did, all the way to New York and Sarah Lawrence College, where she met the two greatest teachers of her life: Martha Graham, the “godmother of modern dance” whose influence on the art form has been likened to Picasso’s on painting; and Joseph Campbell, a handsome English professor whose work in mythology to this day inspires storytellers worldwide, from George Lucas to Bill Moyers. Jean learned technique and structure from Martha; from Joe, intuition and passion. In his teachings and writings, Joe stressed that “an individual has to find what electrifies and enlivens their own heart.” He called this “following your bliss,” which in Joe’s case meant Jean. Within a year of meeting the two were married, and they would remain so for nearly fifty years, until Joe’s passing in 1987.
When Jean talks about Joe, she touches the simple gold wedding band that he gave her seventy-five years ago. “Isn’t it wonderful?” she laughs as she tugs at the ring. “I can’t get it off.” Though much of her memory has faded, Joe’s imprint remains clearly visible throughout Jean’s apartment and life. One entire wall of their home is still dominated by his private library: a wall-length bookshelf filled with tomes on world mythology, arranged not by alphabet but by the geographic locations of the diverse cultures he studied. Photos of Joe hang everywhere: laughing at someone just out of frame; reclining on a beach with his arm around Jean. In every image of the two of them together, they are smiling. “We were fortunate to have found each other and followed what we loved,” Jean says as she pulls out their yellowed wedding photo from the long-gone Hawai‘i of 1938.
But the truth is, great love stories are never that simple. The day after her marriage to Campbell, Jean joined Martha Graham’s company as a principal dancer. Tensions flared almost immediately. “Ever since they taught together, Martha was interested in Joe,” recalls Walter. “All the girls were,” Jean remembers. “When my classmates found out I was marrying him, they put the flag at half mast!” Joe encouraged Jean’s individual expression, which only led to clashes with Martha. “Joe is the one who gave me the courage to really break away,” says Jean. And after six years under Graham’s strict tutelage, Jean did exactly that, becoming one of the first dancers in the troupe to do so. “You didn’t say no to Martha. Nobody dared cross her,” says Jean. The recrimination was nothing less than Shakespearian. “I didn’t think YOU would ever betray me,” Jean intones dramatically, eyes flashing as she impersonates her famous mentor. “It was an awful experience … but it also set me free.”
As a solo artist, Jean’s fame accelerated. In 1944 she launched her own dance company, collaborating with prominent American composers John Cage, Louis Horst and Henry Cowell. “Jean was one of the first dancers who learned to both speak and dance at the same time,” says Walter, whose wife worked with Jean at her Theater of the Open Eye. This blending of lyrical poetry with movement became a seminal feature of Erdman’s choreography, one that set her apart from the more traditional approach of her contemporaries. She was also one of the first dancers to actively incorporate improvisations into her performances, which, according to Jean, “was considered rather shocking … because at that time it was not considered acceptable to perform improvs in public. That was for the privacy of your studio.”
In 1945 the New York Herald Tribune reviewed Jean’s solo choreography, stating, “Her dance attracts through rare beauty of pattern … it does not appeal directly to the intellect nor to the emotions, but rather it seems to carry its message on its own short-wave system to the senses themselves.” Jean defined her maverick style in similar terms: “I was always interested in exploring ways in which the symbolic language of dance could explore the seemingly inexpressible. Joe and I talked about this a lot.”
It’s impossible to look at Jean’s dancing and not see the threads of Campbell’s ideology woven throughout. In Ophelia Jean poises in a white dress with red blood-lines painted down the side. Her neck elongates, back arched like a willow. Through each leg-lift and every twist, a complex web of emotions radiates outward: tragedy, pain, joy, madness. “My mind was filled with mythological imagery,” Jean recalls, “because Joe read everything he wrote to me out loud, to test the rhythms of his writing.” At the same time, “Jean would choreograph a dance,” remembers Walter, “and Joe would watch it and tease out the mythic themes.” Between them there was a symbiosis, a shared passion for the universal symbols inherent in all cultures. Many of Erdman’s most famous dances—captured in the three-volume retrospective Dance and Myth: The World of Jean Erdman—tackle Campbell’s famed “hero’s journey,” which conveys a cycle of adventure, triumph, destruction and return.
Jean’s own journeys took her far across the country and around the world. In the early 1950s she spent nearly five years on the road touring every state with both her dance company and, more frequently, on her own. “Oh, I drove all over the country by myself, dancing in one little town after the next,” she remembers. “I was very independent.” In 1954 she traveled to India, Indonesia and Japan as a solo artist, the first dancer to do so since World War II. Even though she couldn’t speak the languages, “she has a genuineness that instantly connects with people,” says Roger Epstein, a founding member of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. “There’s a fierce passion to go unafraid into new situations, but also a gentleness and a peace in her approach to life reflective of that aloha warmth of spirit.” While Jean was away, Joe also crisscrossed the globe as a speaker, slowly gaining international acclaim. Despite their jet-set schedules, the two made time to travel together, with Joe often accompanying Jean as her stage manager.
With so much constant movement, their decision not to raise a family was mutual. “Fortunately, Joe didn’t want any children because he thought it would take too much time and focus away from his work,” Jean recalls. “And I just wanted to dance.” That said, “She has a deep maternal instinct,” reflects Walter, who like many considers Jean a surrogate mother. “Although they didn’t have biological children, they adopted a lot of us informally over the years. They treated their students as family.” Erdman’s greatest legacy lives on through the thousands of dancers she influenced in her illustrious career as a teacher. Through the 1960s and ’70s she directed the modern dance departments at Columbia University, the University of Colorado and Bard College in upstate New York. She also founded New York University’s prestigious dance program, where she taught from 1966 to 1971 before launching her own private studio, which she shared with Joe.
As a teacher, Jean’s playful lightness shone through the more serious dancer. In a video clip from the time, she corrects a young student, instructing her to “Expand! There isn’t anyone like you—not even the mayor of Kaunakakai!” As a choreographer Erdman was unique, even revolutionary: Her body of work reveals an incredible diversity of influences, from the poetry of E.E. Cummings to the impressionist paintings of Paul Gauguin. She literally danced to the beat of her own drum, creating a style entirely her own and dance pieces that look as fresh and original today as they must have seemed when first performed more than sixty years ago.
Today, sitting in her vibrant green-and-cobalt mu‘umu‘u—which perfectly complements the aged palm tree growing straight up through the lanai behind her and the expansive sea beyond—Jean closes her eyes. Below, the steady song of ocean swells surges against a sea wall, and Erdman, ever the dancer, sways to its soothing rhythm. “I’m extremely grateful to the god of fortune that I’ve had the privilege of pursuing a creative life,” she reflects. “That’s the greatest gift given to me. And I hope that in the work I’ve done, I’ve been able to not only give people pleasure, but also to help them see deeper into their own experience. And I would like to go on doing it forever.”
by twinink on February 11, 2013
(This article appeared in the Feb-March 2013, Hana Hou Magazine)
(photos by Elyse Butler)
A moment ago the tunnel entrance was filled with sunshine and birdsong. But now, a quarter-mile in, the light from the cave’s mouth has narrowed to a pinprick. The only sound is the sloshing of unsteady feet as we push deeper into this secret irrigation flume. In the dark heart of the Ko‘olau mountains, my brother’s headlamp flickers off, then back on. “Of all the moments to die, it had to be now,” he mutters, slapping the only light we share between us. Arms linked, we stumble onward into the dark, seeking one of the most elaborate and adventursome geocaches in Hawai‘i: “The Holy Grail.”
“If you try to explain what geocaching is, you get a lot of funny looks,” warns Errol Hopkins, president of a successful insurance company by day, treasure hunter by night. He has met us in the shaded corner of a mall parking lot, safari hat tucked low, GPS held high. At first glance you would never guess that Errol—better known in the cache kingdom by his handle “Dadwrap”—is one of Hawai‘i’s pioneer geocachers, a man famous for creating some of the Islands’ most mind-expanding, puzzle-based “hides.” With his smudged bifocals and collapsible walking stick, he more resembles a high school history teacher than a weekend Indiana Jones. And yet Errol has found nearly all of the 1,200-plus caches in Hawai‘i to date.
Still the question remains: What is geocaching? And why when we ask does Errol’s face contort in comedic exasperation? To answer, we must rewind the clock.
It began at the stroke of midnight on May 2, 2000. President Bill Clinton issued a release encouraging the “acceptance and integration of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) into peaceful civil, commercial and scientific applications worldwide.” For nearly three decades prior, the government strictly controlled satellite tracking. Now, overnight, GPS technology was open to anybody. That morning David Ulmer, a computer consultant in Oregon, stashed a container in the woods behind his house to test the navigational accuracy of the new civilian devices. He uploaded the coordinates to an Internet newsgroup. Three days later his “cache”—which contained software, books, food, money, a slingshot and a logbook—was found and logged online twice. The sport of geocaching was born.
Today there are more than five million registered “cachers” searching for almost two million active caches hidden in every country and on every continent, including Antarctica, on Earth. There’s a cache at the top of Everest, another sunk seven thousand feet down at the Rainbow Thermal Vents off Portugal. There is even a cache on the International Space Station, though only astronauts and stratospherically wealthy space tourists will ever find it. That said, most geocaches are more accessible: hidden along hiking trails, in city parks or at scenic lookouts for any amateur archaeologist to uncover. Hawai‘i itself is a geocache hot spot, with one of the highest cache densities in the world, including famous ones like “Diamond Quest, ”a virtual multi-cache on the landmark Diamond Head lookout trail; “Pier Pressure,” a cleverly hidden Dadwrap cache near the Ala Moana Boat Harbor; “Kaniakapupu,” a hike to the ruins of King Kamehameha III’s summer cottage; “Saphira’s Teeth,” an educational “earthcache” on Maui featuring unique lava formations; and “GC23,” one of the oldest and most popular caches on O‘ahu. All you need to play “the game” is a GPS-enabled device (like a smartphone) and a sense of adventure.
The first cache Errol leads us to is a mere two-minute walk from our car. Hidden in the twisted roots of a giant banyan tree just off Manoa’s Woodlawn Drive, we find a tiny Tupperware box. Wedged inside are a whistle, a pink plastic hair-tie, glitter hand sanitizer and a metal dog tag. “Oh, you found a travel bug,” Errol explains as he shows us the unique tracking number stamped on the back of the tag: “These and ‘geocoins’ are special items that hitchhike from cache to cache.” He pulls a plastic moose from his pocket, sporting its own metal tag that, once found and logged online, will be hidden in a new locale: “I found this one in Canada. So far it’s been to over thirty countries.” Sensing our disappointment at the uninspiring swag, Errol chuckles. “My wife calls it ‘cache-trash.’ She thinks I’m crazy, wasting all this time hiking around looking for a McDonald’s toy.” In truth, the majority of geocaches hold plastic “prizes” worth less than a dollar. Only a rare few, mostly caches sponsored by corporations like Jeep or the film Planet of the Apes, hold anything of real value. And the die-hard cache community frowns on such promotional hides. “The value of the find isn’t the goal,” says Errol. “It’s the challenge, the search.”
“There are also significant real-world applications,” says University of Hawai‘i professor Paul Lawler (geotag “Plawler”), who incorporates geocaching into his Information Technology in Tourism course. “Geocaching combines technology, geography, sustainability, athleticism.” Lawler, who initially got into geocaching as a way to get in shape, embodies this application in action: “I’ve lost twenty pounds!” he boasts. For his course’s final project, Lawler divides his students into teams, each tasked with finding sixteen different caches. “The greatest benefit has been the teamwork caching encourages,” Lawler asserts. “I see many couples out hiking together and even more families,” says Errol, who loves taking his grandsons caching with him. “It’s a way to get out in nature, to get active, to bond. But above all, it takes you back to that rush you felt as a little kid, when everything still held mystery and wonder.”
Part of what makes geocaching so popular is its simplicity. There are only a few core rules: You may either plant a cache or hunt a cache; caches may not be placed within a quarter-mile of each other; caches should be placed only on public-access land, not private property; anything you remove from a cache must be replaced with something of equal or greater value. Following these guidelines, the number of caches has exploded in recent years. Just punch in your ZIP code to geocaching.com, the mother ship for all geocache enthusiasts, to view dozens of caches within a ten-mile radius of your front door.
The sheer variety and complexity of the hides can be overwhelming. Beyond regular caches and “trackers” like the one in the banyan tree, there are virtual caches, puzzles, multi-stage hides and “munzies”: a tech-hybrid involving photographing hidden QR codes. And the caches themselves come in all shapes and sizes, from nanos (miniature magnetic containers the size of a fingertip) to macro-scale containers. Many are camouflaged in plain sight. Errol takes us to one called “Finding Nemo,” where a fishing pole has been cleverly hidden inside a PVC pipe painted to match a neighboring telephone pole … and that’s just the tool you’ll need to uncover an even more ingeniously concealed cache.
“Try to be discreet,” Errol instructs as a passing fisherman eyes us suspiciously. People have been known to call the cops on geocachers. “One woman got interrogated for twenty minutes before the officer finally admitted he was a cacher himself, using geotag ‘Five-O,’” Errol chuckles. But it’s not always so innocuous. Numerous caches have been destroyed by bomb squads suspecting the contents might be dangerous. Then there are the other things geocachers stumble upon: “In the process of hunting, I’ve found a number of drug stashes,” Errol says. For this reason, geocachers try to maintain a low profile and steer clear of oblivious pedestrians. “We call them ‘Muggles,’” Paul Lawler explains. “Like in the Harry Potter books, part of the thrill is belonging to a hidden world just beyond normal view.”
That hidden world can often be so carefully constructed that it takes people months, even years to navigate. Errol describes a multi-day hunt in San Francisco that covers hundreds of miles and requires cachers to solve complicated riddles written in invisible ink. Another requires learning crochet to knit a pattern, which once completed reveals coordinates. “Personally I try to design my caches so that you go through a journey,” says Errol, who in a few short hours takes us zigzagging across town to some of the fifty caches he’s placed on the island: the grave site of the real-life detective who inspired Charlie Chan, the headstone of a Titanic survivor who lived in Hawai‘i, a scenic, secluded beach. “My favorite finds are the ones that give you that ‘Eureka!’ moment,” Errol acknowledges. “For me that’s what geocaching is all about: finding places you never knew existed and learning in the process.”
On a Waimanalo back road misted with rain, we meet Dadwrap along with a ragtag group of veteran cachers (who self-deprecatingly call themselves the “Knights of the Round” in honor of their general portliness). In the back of Errol’s truck driving toward the Ko‘olau, you wouldn’t at first glance take us for anything other than everyday hikers. But we’re here on a sacred quest: the search for “The Holy Grail.”
As we start up an overgrown public trail into the jungle, all echoes of civilization quickly fade. For a time it’s easy to get lost in the fantasy … until the loud chime of our GPS snaps us back. Up ahead, a waypoint: the mouth of the irrigation flume. Plawler leans inside the dank entrance, his hand coming away covered in cobwebs. “Why did it have to be spiders?” he groans, half mock-Indy, half genuinely unnerved. We shuffle single-file into a darkness punctuated only by the sporadic glitter of minerals embedded in the TNT-blasted stone. “I’ve lived here all my life, and what amazes me is that I’m still discovering new things,” whispers “Queenbee,” the sole female cacher in the group. “That said, I would never do this by myself.” For “Honupohaku,” an international relief worker who has geocached all over the globe, “caching is all about the camaraderie. It’s a great way to meet interesting people and learn about these incredible, secret places.”
Ten minutes in, our toes have gone numb. The tunnel forks and narrows. “The penitent man shall pass,” laughs Plawler as he kneels low to duck-walk through the sunken section. Suddenly Honupohaku rears up, holding an empty Michelob bottle high. “I’ve found it!” he jokes. “Beware he who drinks from false grails,” Errol fires back. He zips the bottle into his pack, in accordance with the geocacher’s environmental creed: Cache in, trash out. A moment later the lights of our LED torch bounce off a golden chalice buried among the rocks.
While it might not be a true treasure granting eternal life, as foolish as it seems standing here in the cold pit of a mountain, signing our names in the logbook under a short list of other successful seekers, the find is rewarding nevertheless. “Just be careful,” Errol warns as we stumble back out into the light. “Once you’ve been bitten by the geocache bug, it’s contagious.”
In conjunction with this story, we’ve hidden a cache somewhere on O‘ahu: “The Hana Hou(ly) Grail.” To find it, you’ll need to first solve the puzzle on our Facebook page. Go towww.facebook.com/hanahou to start your quest.