Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)–wonderful

Caught up with this at last, thanks to Wollongong Library.

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Review by David Stratton

As readers of Li Cunxin’s very popular book will know, MAO’S LAST DANCER is the inspirational story of a boy born in poverty in a village in China’s Shandong province who grows up to become an internationally famous ballet star before defecting to the West.
Flashbacks show Li at the age of 11 in 1972 living with his family and parents (Joan Chen and Wang Shuangbao). Talent scouts select him to be trained to dance in the Beijing Dance Academy, where he experiences the impact of the Cultural Revolution.
Later he takes part in an exchange programme to dance with the Houston Ballet company, where he falls for Elizabeth, AMANDA SCHULL – when he’s ordered back to China and refuses to go, there’s an international incident.
Li is played at different stages of his life by three actors, eventually by CHI CAO, and his story, as scripted by Jan Sardi and directed by Bruce Beresford, is unquestionably an enthralling one. It’s a pity that the clichés inherent in the material haven’t been completely eliminated. Basically, it’s a typical rags to riches story, with some captivating dance sequences, and some rather obvious suspense, thrown in.
Performances are generally good, but Bruce Greenwood, as Houston’s artistic director, rather overplays his part. Poor Elizabeth is given short shrift given that she’s the reason for Li’s defection.
These quibbles aside, there’s a lot to enjoy in the film; it’s very efficiently made, and though never totally inspiring, it’s eminently watchable.

Margaret “cried buckets” – and so did I.  My experience over 20+ years with M and those I knew through him, as well as many of my own adult and school-age students from 1990 onwards, convince me of the authenticity of this movie. The ballet scenes, by the way, were choreographed by Graeme Murphy.

The latest on Li Cunxin:

August 1st 2012

Li has been appointed the new Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet (QB). Li is the 5th Artistic Director in Queensland Ballet’s 52-year history. QB is one of only three ballet companies in Australia.

Queensland Ballet Chair, Adjunct Professor Joan Sheldon AM, said, “We are absolutely delighted to welcome Li on behalf of the Company, its friends and supporters. This is an exciting new direction for our Company, our audiences, and Queensland.

“Li’s passion for dance and devotion to artistic excellence and quality complements our vision as a leading classical ballet company with a distinctive spirit and vitality that is proudly reflective of Queensland and Australia. Li’s extraordinary career, international reputation, networks and commercial experience will provide the Company with invaluable opportunities to build upon the achievements of our 52 year history. The Company can only benefit with Li leading us into the next chapter of our journey of renewal, growth and pursuit of creative excellence.”…

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