Jackie Chan
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Magical mix of sound and vision

Jackie Chan

Acclaimed New Zealand percussion group Strike brings its powerful and imaginative show to Hong Kong

A high-energy group of percussionists from New Zealand will shake, rattle and roll through Hong Kong as part of a series of entertainment programmes for families that kicks off next month.

Strike, a highly acclaimed ensemble of musicians, will be one of the highlights of the Family Fiesta series, which is organised by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD).

The series begins on Friday with Hansel and Gretel, a table-top puppet adventure of courage and kindliness by Ming Ri Institute for Arts Education. There will be music from Hong Kong Children's Symphony Orchestra, and a production of 24 by Jumbo Kids Theatre, a story depicting filial duties in Chinese culture.

Hansel and Gretel and 24 will be performed in Cantonese.

An LCSD spokesman said: 'We hope to bring laughter, happiness, excitement and enjoyable theatrical experiences to Hong Kong audiences.'

Strike will make its debut in Hong Kong in April.

Led by co-founder and artistic director Murray Hickman, the troupe first hit the international circuit in 2001 after acclaimed performances at Les Journees de la Percussion (the European Percussion Festival) in Paris, and at the Cervantino International Festival in Mexico a year later.

In the ensuing years, Strike has built up a respectable list of accolades in Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Taipei when, after a performance there, the then president of the Percussive Arts Society Rich Holly compared the show to the smash-hit percussion musical Stomp (which played to sell-out audiences in Hong Kong) by saying, 'What Stomp and Blue Man Group wish they could be'.

Usually percussionists form the backbone of musical ensembles, whether they are orchestral or jazz groups. But Strike strips percussion bare of its established environment and thrusts it onto a dramatic stage where beating, striking and thumping an instrument makes for only half a show. Visual elements compete with music for the starring role.

Kay Jamieson, the international representative for Strike, said: 'Sometimes a movement is developed first and then a rhythm devised that can be played as the movement is made; and sometimes we create rhythms and compositions to which we then add a visual element. And sometimes they both happen together.'

Strike was formed as a group of percussionists who were studying classical percussion at university, but its high-energy shows today include Pacific and contemporary musical influences which are combined with theatre and dance to create powerful and imaginative productions.

After touring in the mainland in April the group will bring its newest production, In The Cube (which is also the flagship in its repertoire), to Hong Kong. The show is based around Strike's trademark cubes - a large scaffolding structure which supports traditional and non-traditional percussion instruments from cymbals and drums to hubcaps.

The structure is designed for maximum choreographic impact and players climb, hang and run on the cubes, and play the instruments. The 85-minute, non-stop production has references to Chinese philosophy with an elements theme running throughout: fire, water, wood (earth) and metal (scaffolding) are all used to create music.

'It was six years in development and incorporates musical, theatrical and choreographic elements in an enormously physical and high-energy show. As such, keeping fit is a must for the cast,' Jamieson said.

Hickman's student and post-student days proved instrumental in the creation of Strike. As a student, he toured with Sydney Dance Company during a production called Free Radicals that combined dance and percussion. He co-founded Strike in 1993, and in 1998 in collaboration with the New Zealand Ballet company, Strike performed Smashing Sweet Vixen, which served to reinforce the direction the group would take.

The group continued its exploration of choreographed percussion, teaming up with dance companies and choreographers along the way to develop its ideas and repertoire.

In The Cube morphed from Smashing Sweet Vixen.

'Strike and dancers performed on a set in which the instruments were affixed a great distance from each other to ensure a choreographed visual element as the percussionists moved from instrument to instrument,' Jamieson said. 'The dancers emulated the motions of the drummer to form the basis of their own movement.'

The LCSD said it hoped to bring Hong Kong audiences new perspectives about percussion performances through Strike.

There are five percussionists in the production who all come from New Zealand, with the exception of Japanese-born Takumi Motokawa, who recently joined the company. Between them, the artists have clocked up performances with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra.

Strike will perform at Sai Wan Ho Civic Centre on April 20 and 21; and at Yuen Long Theatre on April 22.