Melbourne Festival: Under Siege

Under Siege comes from the mind of the great Chinese artist and choreographer Yang Liping and will truly assault the senses.

From the moment you enter the theatre and see the undulating blades of a thousand pairs of scissors hanging from the ceiling, you know you are in for something spectacular. The metallic clinks chime around the space eerily while a lone woman slowly works at cutting out paper figures. Throughout the performance, her dedicated focus underscores the gravity and dark nature of the subject matter.

Based upon on a great battle between the Chu and Han dynasties of around 200BC, the story unfurls dramatically. While originating from hard military aspects undergoes a poetic transformation. The war while bloody and explosive is elegant. Power and passion intermingle through the medium of dance to play out an hour and a half of gripping and imaginative theatre.

Under Siege is a show that is of the highest visual calibre. With costumes designed by Tim Yip (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) the imagery here is breathtaking. The ensembles include armour with war flags extending in a peacock like fashion, the intricate, vibrant details on the concubine’s outfit, and the theatrical use of monochrome variations for many of the dancers.

From the bleak, stark opening with war-drums booming, to the romantic, sensual solo of the concubine (played by a male dancer a la traditional Peking opera) the outfits bring the culture and feel of the show to a heightened reality.  The lighting is creative and conjures excellent light and shade, masking dancers entirely and refocusing the audience subconsciously at will. This allows for beautiful moments of revelation that surprise and delight.

The movement itself is compelling and draws on many influences. Blending traditional Peking Opera, martial arts and contemporary dance the movement vocabulary is perfect for the discourse of the narrative.

This is a show that exudes war and sex, turning the gore of war into a poignant reminder of the boundless extent of love. The culmination of which – the stage floods with blood red feathers that gracefully fly up into the air and descend slowly with the dancer’s movements.

Unde Siege is visual song, transforming one of the greatest stories in China’s military history into a gorgeous expression of human emotion, and raw talent.

I’d have to give this one 4/5 concubines!

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