One of China’s most epic stories was reinvented into a series of ravishing contemporary dance spectacles, with it’s only flaw being it’s short run at Melbourne Festival.

Under Siege might be the reason I now finally understand, and like, contemporary dance. Yang Liping, a Chinese national treasure in dance, from her work ins striking solos and lavish ensemble works, has rewritten the epochal tale known in Chinese opera as Farewell My Concubine into an epicenter of energy and colour.   The story broadly follows the great war through China during 206 BC to 202 BC, following the collapse of the Qin dynasty. The show contrasts scenes of humour between the two would be leaders of China play fighting with intense clashes between the warring parties, and the tender love scene with Xiang Yu (the ambitious tragic King of Western Chu) and his favourite concubine.

A fun fact, the role of Yu Ji, the favourite concubine, is a female role that is traditionally played by male actors in the Peking Opera, and this is well received by Melbourne audiences, with one of the wildest cheers of the evening for Hu Shenyuan, who plays Yu Ji.  All of the performers have traveller a long way to be a part of this incredible show, with each of the six male lead performers seeming to specialize in different forms of dance and performance, from “old male” acting to fight choreography and more.

The stage design is intricate and dramatic- the main stage dressing being an ever-moving sea of scissors suspended from the ceiling. The show is narrated in Chinese with subtitles, but have no fear there are screens translating the narration. The screens also translate the intricate symbols seemingly cut out by hand, by a performer who sits in the right corner of the stage for the full performance. She cuts and rearranges the shapes, creating a paper snow storm across the show and a mountain of shapes that she later destroys as the drama heightens across the show. The translations add real value and understanding the show (unfortunately my Mandarin extends to pleasantries and ordering dumplings), but it also makes it a little distracting to follow both the story and the action on stage.

Lighting is spectacular across the show, used to transform the space and convey the seriousness and change of mood, particularly shown in contrasts from the battle scenes to the concubine scene, from stark and white to soft reds.

The crowd goes absolutely wild for Yang Liping when she came out for her curtain call, and for good reason: the choreography was outstanding. A slick mix of high energy fight choreography, contemporary dance, with inspirations drawn from martial arts, hip hop, ballet and more. Movements are border line contortionist (as well as very sexy) throughout the concubine dance.

This spectacular show’s only flaw was it’s short run: it played at the State Theatre at the Arts Centre Melbourne from Thursday 5 to Sunday 8 October.