The U.S. premiere of the dance-theater work Under Siege, presented August 8–10 as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival, explores themes of war, power, betrayal, and passion, as seen through the lens of renowned choreographer Yang Liping. Set during the epic battle between Chu and Han armies in 202 B.C., Under Siege blends elements of martial arts, contemporary and Chinese folk dance, gymnastics, and more to interpret an encounter that changed the course of Chinese history.

Here is an illustrated guide to the five principal characters featured in Under Siege.

The Setting: The war between these two forces, from 206 to 202 B.C., is known as the Chu-Han Contention. We enter the story with the final battle of the four-year war—the Battle of Gaixia.

  • Xiao He: A Great Statesman

    The character of Xiao He in Under Siege

    The entire performance is narrated by Xiao He, a statesman and adviser to the Han leader, Liu Bang. He would later become the victorious Liu Bang's prime minister.

    • Xiang Yu: An Ambitious, Tragic Leader

      The character of Xiang Yu in Under Siege

      Xiang Yu, an ambitious tyrant, was the leader of the Western Chu, one of two major contending powers that emerged following the collapse of the Qin dynasty (220–206 B.C.).

      In the Battle of Gaixa, upon hearing a combined chorus of Han soldiers and captured Chu troops singing, Xiang Yu believes that he is completely under siege and has been defeated.

      • Yu Ji: Devoted Concubine

        The character of Yu Ji in Under Siege

        When it appears that the Chu forces have been defeated, Xiang Yu's favorite concubine, Yu Ji, kills herself, for she cannot bear the thought of outliving her beloved. A broken-spirited Xiang Yu continues to fight, but eventually he also commits suicide.

        • Liu Bang: A Fierce Warrior

          The character of Liu Bang in Under Siege

          Although militarily weaker than Xiang Yu, the Han leader Liu Bang eventually prevails because, according to Chinese legends and historical accounts, he is able to command a group of brilliant advisers and generals.

          The Chu-Han Contention is a complete victory for Han, and Liu Bang soon proclaims himself the first emperor of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.), a four-century period that is considered one of the greatest reigns in Chinese history.

          • Han Xin: A Brilliant Tactician

            The two characters of Han Xin in Under Siege

            Han Xin—portrayed by two performers to illustrate his conflicted soul—was a military general and skillful strategist who had joined one of the armies led by Xiang Yu's uncle to overthrow the Qin dynasty. After the overthrow, he continued to serve under Xiang Yu, but—having not been placed in high regard despite his many proposed strategies—he deserted Xiang Yu's army and joined Liu Bang, leading the Han side to victory.

          Eileen Willis is the Editorial Director at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

          Major endowment support for contemporary dance and theater is provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

          Endowment support for the Mostly Mozart Festival presentation of Under Siege is provided by the Blavatnik Family Foundation Fund for Dance.

          The Mostly Mozart Festival presentation of Under Siege is made possible in part by the Harkness Foundation for Dance.