Strike: Elemental

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

05/08/2011 - 20/08/2011

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

03/07/2008 - 26/07/2008

Production Details

Presented by STRIKE

Blazing energy and virtuosity warms Downstage in winter

Downstage Theatre is proud to present the Wellington premiere season of acclaimed percussion group Strike’s brand new stage show Elemental. At its world premiere at the Erupt Festival in Taupo in May audiences responded with standing ovations as one half of a Bedford truck, fire guns and a waterfall, mixed with high-energy drum beats filled the stage. Company Manager Jamie Bull says Strike are absolutely delighted to return to Downstage following their very successful debut season of Cubed in 2002 at the theatre.

Elemental has been specifically designed for intimate theatres, and Downstage is the perfect venue for this show,” Bull says. Elemental, Strike’s follow-up to their award-winning stage show In The Cube (Winner Wellington Fringe Best Music Award 2007), features four of the country’s top percussionists harnessing the sonic power of the elements; fire, water, earth and the airwaves. The hour and a half non-stop show takes the audience on a breathtaking rhythmical journey and includes all new compositions, including two from top New Zealand composer Gareth Farr.

The percussionists Tom Pierard, Leni Sulusi, Murray Hickman and Tim Whitta have been working out at the gym daily to cope with the physical demands of the performance, which includes backflipping while drumming. “It is stunning. They’ve really pushed the boundaries this time; creating new instruments, new sounds and dramatic new mobile sets. They’ve moved percussion into new places. This is going to be an exciting ride for the audience,” says Strike Manager Jamie Bull.

“This show captures things that Strike has not yet explored in music and theatrics, combining many different musical styles, technology, lights and sound. This show is going to be the best yet,” says Tim Whitta. Leni Sulusi agrees: “The show leaves no room for audiences to be bored.”

Founded in 1993 as a classically trained percussion ensemble, Strike has evolved into a high-energy drumming group combining movement and theatre-based performance. Featuring New Zealand’s most outstanding percussionists, the group’s skilful creativity, choreography and humour has wowed, entertained, moved, surprised and impressed audiences around the world, including China, Japan and Hong Kong.

Elemental plays at Downstage
from Thursday 3 July till Saturday 26 July,
Monday to Wednesday at 6.30 pm and Thursday to Saturday at 7.30 pm.

There will be two $20 previews (Thursday 3 July and Friday 4 July) and
an afternoon matinee at 3 pm on Saturday 19 July.

2011 season:
Direct from the prestigious Taiwan International Percussion Convention, (where they played 2000-seat arenas and were named Audience Favourite), Strike return to their hometown with Elemental – a spectacular fusion of colour, sound, humour and dance.

Strike: Elemental @ Downstage 
Cnr Courtenay Pl & Cambridge Tce
5 Aug – 20 Aug
Book at our box office, phone 04 801 6946.
Performance Times
Tuesday – Wednesday 6.30pm
Thursday – Saturday 8pm
(no shows Sun and Mon)
Sat 13 Aug, 4pm
Meet the Artists

Tues 9 Aug (post show)

Public Workshop
Sat 20 Aug, 4pm
Schools matinee
Weds 17 Aug, 1pm (call our box office for details) 

Tickets can be purchased online at, at Downstage’s box office or by phone at (04) 801 6946.

For more information on the show and the venue please visit Downstage’s website at or the theatre blog at or Strike’s website at


Territory   Murray Hickman and Tim Whitta (2003)
Driving rhythms, Flaming mallets – welcome to Elemental.

Streams   Tim Whitta (2008)
Heavily influenced by the time I spent by the creek at my old school. Sounds of nature – birdcalls, and rippling rapids – alongside the prominent noise of people and machinery.

Pukul   Gareth Farr (2003)    
Commissioned by Strike percussion and first performed in their show Farr Blitz.
Pukul – ‘strike’ in Indonesian – was the first time I was able to write in this style since discovering Balinese gamelan music in the late 80s. The Strike performers are such phenomenal percussionists, they bring these rhythmic ideas to life like I’ve never heard before! The piece alternates sections of the bombastic ‘kebyar’ style playing with sections of intense driving rhythms, influenced by other musical styles – from rock music, to Rarotongan drumming, to John Cage.

Tubes   Gareth Farr (2008) Commissioned by Strike with funding from Creative New Zealand. Created for the fewest instruments – and even then they’re not real instruments – ‘Tubes’ uses four pieces of aluminium pipe, and draws on Balinese interlocking techniques. I particularly love the idea of creating interesting sounds with junk – the concept that you can create beautiful music with stuff that isn’t worth anything, financially speaking. Despite the simplicity of the concept, the piece is incredibly difficult to play – all four players have to play as if they were one person.

Earthworks   Tim Whitta ( 2008)
Earthworks is centred on the choreographic elements in the Japanese percussion style Taiko.  A call and response theme blends the visual and sound elements, with low drums representing the earth’s seismic activity.

Relentless   Murray Hickman ( 2008)
Using only metal timbres, this piece charts a volcanic episode – from dormancy to eruption.

Water Sketches  Murray Hickman ( 2008)
From precipitation to a hydroelectric dam – a raindrops travels 

Igniter   Strike ( 2008)
Using our newly commissioned fire guns, Strike harness fire to create mesmerising choreography and rhythmic intricacy

Blast  Takumi Motokawa ( 2008)
Fire – a central element in festivals all over the world- was the inspiration for this piece. When I see or experience fire, I want to make a loud noise!

Drumflip  Leni Sulusi ( 2008)
Based on hip-hop, laced with flashy drum stick tricks and back flips.

Ukare Funk  Gareth Farr ( 2008)
Exploring different ways of finding syncopation within a triple (compound) beat, and complicated cross rhythms playing against more steady groove rhythms is a major feature of the piece’s rhythmic textures. Ukare is, as a musical term, Japanese for a swung or compound beat. In everyday usage it also means “letting go” or “throwing caution to the wind and enjoying yourself”, which I think sums up the mood of the piece perfectly. And funk? – well, that speaks for itself!

Hydrophonic  Murray Hickman and Strike ( 2008)
Take a dippophone, gongophone, Van-Tam-Tamaphone and a ticky tacky machine, add a wide selection of weird and wonderful instruments, the pitch bending properties of water, some inventive drummers and you get a sonic experience you could only describe as Hydrophonic.

Lava   Takumi Motokawa ( 2008)
Natural disasters are unpredictable, especially volcanic activities and earthquakes. When faced with an eruption, humans are defenceless- the force is too big. But we still live with it. Life goes on.



Murray Hickman, Tom Pierard, Tim Whitta, Leni Sulusi

Digital Concepts and Technology:

Takumi Motokawa


Jamie Bull, Murray Hickman

Production Design, Lighting Design and Operation:

Van Locker

Sound Design and Operation:

Ollivier Ballester


Willem Wassenaar, Miranda Harcourt

Creative Direction, Set:

Rob Appierdo

Technical Design:

Craig Bond


Gareth Farr, Murray Hickman, Takumi Motokawa, Tom Pierard, Leni Sulusi, Tim Whitta

Stage Manager:

Helena Coulton

Cast and Creative Team 2011:

Strike Artistic Director/Performance Director:Murray Hickman

Performers/Composers: Murray Hickman, Tim Whitta, Leni Sulusi, Takumi Motokawa; 

Performer: Tom Broome

Sound Designer/Operator:
Ollivier Ballester

Lighting Designer: Van Locker 

Lighting Operator: Brian Fairbrother

Stage Manager: Maria Deere

Set concept direction: Rob Appierdo

Dramaturg (2008): Willem Wassenaar

Performance Director (2011): Angela Green 

Dance-theatre , Music , Physical ,

1hr 30min, no interval

Subtle brilliance, visceral energy

Review by Caoilinn Hughes 06th Aug 2011

There were earplugs on the armrests of the seats last night at Downstage Theatre for Strike Percussion’s performance, but very few people used them. Most members of the audience didn’t want to miss a beat. If you don’t want to miss a beat in the pulse of New Zealand culture, book tickets for Strike Elemental now.

Bring friends – you will want someone to turn to in the darkness of the auditorium to whisper approval frantically. Bring colleagues – you will not find a better example of team work, determination and awe-inspiring togetherness. Bring family – you’ll have something to talk about for weeks to come and your granny will become an instant drumming enthusiast. 

Strike is a New Zealand percussion group that specialises in “movement-based, choreographed percussion.” First and foremost, they are world-class musicians. Once you’ve digested that, you can appreciate the group as innovative composers, riveting performers, physical theatre professionals, aesthetically-gifted choreographers and stamina-abundant athletes to boot.

Strike has been performing for over ten years in New Zealand; not just on stage, but in schools, festivals, street events, private and corporate events. Looking at historical YouTube videos, it seems that the group has really come into its own in recent years; perfecting its performances and musicianship.

Creative Director of Downstage – Hilary Beaton – who introduced the show in a pre-performance talk, confirmed that the group had gone from strength to strength since their first performance of Elemental at Downstage in 2008, which commenced a three-year residency they held at the theatre. The current run at Downstage culminates this residency which, according to the Artistic and Performance Director of the Strike, Murray Hickman, has given them the opportunity and platform to build the company into what it is today; ensuring their longevity and professional standing in New Zealand. 

This is a group that must be seen live. Only live can you appreciate the subtle brilliance of a blow-torch rhythm switching from 3/4 to 6/8. Only live can you feel the visceral energy being poured into every cadence; every sweat-dripping oscillation. 

There is a huge diversity of sound, despite the lack of stringed instruments and obvious melodic motifs. Instruments including traditional drum sets (hung vertically), cooking pots, gas canisters, washbasins, home-made gongs plunged into glorified fish bowls for tonal play, and xylophones produce spooky, seductive, meditative, mathematical, ruttish, shocking, distorted, breathless, exalting, spine-chilling, nightmarish and always achieved aesthesis.

Those are a lot of words. But Strike don’t use words. They communicate their imagined worlds through rhythms and movement. There is no over-arching narrative, but each act does tell some kind of story – if you care to look out for it. The group’s communication is at its best when they are focusing on sound and choreographed rhythm-making rather than on showmanship and theatricality. 

Pacific influences in the music are obvious. There is ethnic diversity in the performers. Strike is somehow very much from, inspired by and representative of New Zealand. Hickmaninformed me that the group are booked for numerous upcoming events, including Rugby World Cup performances. What an exciting and majestic presentation of New Zealand culture to display to visitors from around the world. Make sure you’ve seen them first.   
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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A total workout for performers and audience

Review by Simon Sweetman 21st Jul 2008

The new show by Strike, Elemental develops familiar themes (using fire, water, air within the context of staged, dramatic percussion) but places the quartet and the elemental riffing in a new context with some newly commissioned pieces too (including work from longtime Strike affiliate, Gareth Farr). The four members of Strike move freely between the scaffold drums, using dance, mime and comedy to segue between planned drum-pieces.

Murray Hickman is very much the lead of the group, his infectious enthusiasm is the lifeblood that flows through Strike as an entity. And it really is appropriate to refer to this quartet as an entity, an organism that live and breathes drums together because at some points in the show the sound of four drummers becomes, with a quick eye-close, the sound of forty.

Japanese Taiko drum rhythms cross paths with Cook Island log drums, marching band rhythms, 20th Century classical snare drum, jazz, metal, funk and free percussion; Strike is all encompassing in its approach.

Highlights including the band (literally) playing with fire (Igniter), and Leni Sulusi’s Drumflip which incorporates hip-hop dancing and showmanship and is seamlessly performed with Tom Pierard. Tim Whitta, along with Hickman, forms Strike’s backbone, or main limbs (as it were) – moving between suspended bass drums and submerged gongs to deliver the message of unity, co-operation, soul and innovation.

Strike’s theatrical work incorporates passages of humour that allow the group members to have a little bit of fun without every trying too hard or diluting the musical value of the show. But Strike is a group that suits theatre work; this is very much a show rather than a concert.

Filled with movement, shadow, space, light, darkness, mime – and most gloriously: loud, clattering drums, Strike’s Elemental is the best show I have seen from the talented quartet. And it is well priced for a theater show too. A total workout for performers and audience, I think this show has the something for everyone and it would be nice to think that as Wellingtonians we would go out and support our own and see and recommend this amazing show.


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Striking a blow for non-verbal theatre

Review by John Smythe 06th Jul 2008

Like Strike’s four percussionists, earth, air, fire and water feature separately and together in multiple permutations to create the 13 works that comprise Elemental.

Murray Hickman, Tom Pierard, Leni Sulusi and Tim Whitta are earthed in their consummate and composite musicianship as they extract extraordinary sounds and rhythms from instruments wrought from minerals: metals, glass, ceramics and plastics. And skins, of course. Then there is wood (grown through the convergence of all four elements) which gives us sticks, Cook Island drums and xylophone / marimba keybars.

It is the way the performers move through space and make their instrumental objects interact with air that produces the vibrant percussive reverberations. A metal tube held and struck with a hard knob tocks like a clock, but tossed in the air and hit it dings, and played en masse they sing. The left front fender of a long dead truck produces a delicate sound entirely at odds with its lumpish bulk …

Special mention, while we’re air-borne, to Leni Sulusi who moves well beyond the call of most percussionists to combine riffing on a tiny harnessed drum with back-flips and break-dancing; then he and Tom Pierard stick-twirl, drum, balance and back-flip off each other: spectacular!

Racks of drums, gongs, cymbals and chimes, hung and strung for full frontal attack with the odd side swipe, are Strike’s core equipment, with wheel rims and insulators also strategically mounted. As they reach their cacophonous crescendos we can either wallow in the belted welter of sounds or marvel objectively at the way they maintain and shift their intricate rhythms, micro-managing the component parts to macromanic effect.

Fire opens the show with the single strike of a match and quickly flares into flaming batons that flay the skins until they (the flames) are extinguished. Later the subtlest sigh of a flame and the sounds it can make when thrown through plastic tubes are explored with a lightness of touch then a playful darkness when one is used to evoke a blasting machine gun.

Water is the peacemaker and sometimes the clown, when the bong of a gong warbles into a boiiing as it’s lowered into a bowl of liquid. Solitary drips and the flow of poured water also add to the more tranquil yet quietly effervescent rhythms and textures …

These, then, are the elements employed with boundless creative ingenuity by the ‘in house’ composers: Hickman (Territory, Relentless, Water Sketches, Hydrophonic), Whitta (Territory, Streams, Earthworks), Sulusi (Drum Flip)  and Strike as a group (Igniter); Gareth Farr, whose three pieces – Pukul, Tubes, Ukare Funk – are the most melodic; Takumi Motokawa (Blast, Lava), who earns a ‘digital concepts and technology’ credit, and joins the quartet for the encore piece. 

The Works are detailed on the production page (scroll right down to find it). I’d advise swotting up on the notes beforehand because it’s hard to read them during the show. Besides, it’s probably better to get a sense of what has inspired them then free your own imagination to soar in subjective response to the works, which more often than not merge into each other (so it’s hard to discern where one ends and another begins anyway).

Ollivier Ballester’s invisible but vital sound design and operation are integral to the final mix. Van Locker’s production design, lighting design and operation add illuminating value. A crew led by Stage Manager Helena Coulton work in the shadows to reposition equipment and ensure things are in the right place. And the overall shape and structure of the work is doubtless enhanced by the dramaturgical inputs of Willem Wassenaar and Miranda Harcourt.

But it is the four super-fit and tireless performers who shine in the night as they strike a blow – not least of fire down plastic tubes, and bubbles in air and under water – for non-verbal theatre. Downstage (the Hannah Playhouse) is the ideal venue for this production – oh, and by the way, the new and much more comfortable (so less distracting) seating is a blessing.


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