Impression Sanjie Liu, one of the most highly regarded stage performances in all of China, interprets the story of Sanjie Liu, a legendary young girl in the Zhuang minority group renowned for her angelic singing voice. A local tyrant fell in love with her and offered to make her his concubine, but her heart belonged to a village boy with an equally stunning voice. Together, they thwarted the tyrant’s murder attempts by transforming into a pair of larks and flying off together.
If you witnessed the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, you’re already familiar with the work of Zhang Yimou. Zhang is the director of Impressions Sanjie Liu and brings a similar sense of drama and scale to this smaller production. For example, instead of using a conventional stage for the show, the creative minds behind Impression Sanjie Liu managed to transform the naturally stunning landscape along the Li River into a giant stage where the surrounding limestone formations and the river itself are as much a part of the spectacle as the actors.
As the scenes unfold, giant floodlights positioned at the bases of karsts on both sides of the river illuminate the jutting rocks in light and color. Most of the show takes place right on the waters of the Li River, where more than 600 performers take to this natural stage, many of whom are local fishermen living in villages along the river or young singers from the minority groups of the area.
While the music and limited dialogue are in Mandarin, the visuals and music alone make the show a must-see in Yangshuo even if you can’t understand the words. The combination of sitting under the moon and stars with the natural landscape illuminated around you, all set to the sounds of the haunting vocals of hundreds of people singing together is nothing short of magical.
The only real drawback of the outdoor amphitheater is that it’s at the mercy of the elements. Summer nights tend to cool off pleasantly, but in fall or early spring, it can get chilly. Vendors inside the stadium will rent out jackets and blankets for steep fees, so it’s best to bring your own. Mosquitos can be a bother throughout the year, but especially during the hot summer months, so arm yourself with bug spray before heading out for the evening.