Modern Chinese dance drama set to make US debut


About two weeks away from the US premiere, members of the acclaimed Chinese dance drama Under Siege are busy rehearsing amid the sweltering heat.

XinhuaUpdated: August 1, 2019

About two weeks away from the US premiere, members of the acclaimed Chinese dance drama Under Siege are busy rehearsing amid the sweltering heat.

Dancers perform the dance opera Under Siege in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan province. [File photo/Xinhua]

Combining traditional paper-cutting performances, glamorous Peking Opera costumes, haunting operatic voices, bold martial arts and installation art, Under Siege is a work of contemporary dance based on powerful body language and an authentic Chinese spirit.

It retells the story of an epic battle in Chinese history between the Chu and Han kingdoms' armies more than 2,000 years ago.

The dance drama has been hailed as an aesthetic triumph for its visual splendor since its 2015 debut in China.

"It is an experimental drama of contemporary dance, highlighting Chinese culture and aesthetics through an international lens," says Yang Liping, chief choreographer and director of the show.

"We are using modern methods to tell a very well-known historical story," the renowned Chinese dancer says, noting that the themes: strategizing, scheming, laying ambush and crafting a siege echo throughout life, even today.

Yang says the integration of various kinds of Chinese cultural elements helps to enhance the drama's oriental beauty, including the art installations featuring scissors hanging from the ceiling and the red feathers on the floor.

"The installation art by Chinese-American artist Beili Liu deepens the theme, as the simple household tool-the scissors-implies danger and fear in Chinese culture," the Chinese dancing master says, illustrating the cultural connotation of the staging.

Using motifs such as scissors and red feathers, instead of knives and swords, to portray a key clash in Chinese history, embodies a kind of quiet power, as well as Chinese philosophy, Yang explains.

The theater also features Ambush from Ten Sides, a famous Chinese classical composition for the pipa (a lute) that describes the decisive battle between the Chu and Han armies.

Yang is a household name in China, making her name back in 1986 with her dance piece, Spirit of the Peacock.

For decades, she has been dedicated to Chinese folk dance, which usually takes its inspiration from nature. Under Siege is one of her recent efforts to embark on the timeless themes of siege, ambush and human nature.

Yang emphasizes that underscoring the beauty and national identity of Chinese art forms is essential to the endeavor of going global.

"This time, from the visual effects to dance and music, it's all purely Chinese," she says, adding that the production is made possible thanks to joint efforts of the entire team.

"All the dancers are talented, trying to portray characters in their own way," says Yang.

Under Siege, a project supported by the China National Arts Fund, is expected to make its US premiere at New York's Lincoln Center on Aug 8 and will be staged three times through Aug 10.

Liu, installation artist and creative consultant for the production, says she expects this well-crafted show will provide US audiences with a different perspective of Chinese culture.

Hong Kong-born Tim Yip, who won the 2001 Academy Award for best art direction for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, took the lead in the costume and scene design for the drama.

The US debut is a highlight of the ongoing 53rd Mostly Mozart Festival, an annual summer event at the Lincoln Center presenting dozens of concerts, dance dramas, operas and films.