Dance Review: Contemporary Dance

Yang Liping
Under Siege
(China)
TAPAC, April 26

A theatrical performance of operatic scale, Under Siege, choreographed by the talented Yang Liping, is indeed a most impressive show. The subject of the piece is the blood drenched mega-battle between the Han and Chu dynasties (around 200 BCE), which changed the history of China.

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The stunning set design, or better yet, artistic installation, composed of rows of thousands steel scissors hanging above the stage like an ominous cloud, hits us first. It is contrasted by a serene beauty in white, who sits next to a pile of white paper, which she cuts out – a popular Chinese craft – throughout the evening.

On top of the symbolic power of those elements is a layer of highly effective, aesthetic visuals that takes the breath away.
The final scenes are just as spectacular, visually mesmerizing, depicting the end of the battle, won by the Hans, with red smoke filling the stage, and high piles of crimson confetti embracing the dying warriors.

In between, Yang lined up many short scenes depicting various battles, introducing legendary warriors, all dressed in unique outfits and headgears, confronting rivals and lovers. In the past, in many Eastern and Western cultures, male actors portrayed female roles, a tradition still maintained in the Chinese opera, as well as in Japanese kabuki, etc.

The ancient war is an important part of Chinese history and ethos. Yang’s rendition follows the traditional narrative, refraining from abstractions or challenging the borders of the art form, unlike her innovative countryman Shen Wei. Her forte lies in extravagant production, of the kind that may work well in a stadium.

Her dancers are well versed in traditional Chinese opera conventions, like specific dramatic narration and highly styled movement compositions, along with martial arts techniques, all alongside Yang’s notions of modern dance. The influence of Western modern dance was evident in groups with supporting roles.

Out of the numerous grandiose scenes filled with acrobatic treats, one love story stood out, due to dancer Hu Shenyuang in the role of Yu Ji – legendary concubine of Chu leader – who showed exceptional agility and control while conveying subtle femininity, subdued passion and deeply touching love and devotion.

True, Yang infuses her work with both cultures through action, movement, music and costume, in a praiseworthy way. However, in the end, the center of gravity is Chinese culture, and yet the show is smooth and easy to digest for all.

The production enjoyed an unusually long list of world-recognized artistic advisers and designers, like Oscar winner Tom Yip, Beili Liu and others. Without them, the production couldn’t have soared as high.