Mao’s Last Dancer
Autumn 2010 Features series
Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 4:00pm
Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 7:00pm
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Screenplay by Jan Sardi
Based on the book by Cunxin Li
Starring Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood, Kyle MacLachlan, Amanda Schull
Rated PG ·
Mao’s Last Dancer
Brought to the screen by acclaimed director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Black Robe), Mao’s Last Dancer tells the inspiring true story of Li Cunxin.
Born in 1961, Li lived with his six brothers and impoverished parents in China’s Shandong Province. His family was destined to be labourers, but when recruiters from Madame Mao’s ballet academy in Beijing swept through his singleroom school in search of untapped talent to mould into the future leading lights of the Cultural Revolution, eleven-year-old Li was selected, and committed to a strange new life of stringent training, both artistic and ideological.
Practicing by candlelight and jumping up stairs with sandbags tied to his ankles to build his strength while his peers slept, Li (excellently played as a young adult by dancer Chi Cao) became the school’s top dancer. Discovered by Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood, Star Trek, I’m Not There), the artistic director of the Houston Ballet and part of the first American cultural delegation to Communist China, Li is given the opportunity to be one of the first exchange students allowed by Mao’s regime to go to America. After a brief bout with culture shock – Houston’s malls and so-called Chinese restaurants were alien spheres to him – he quickly fell in love with America’s freedom and one of its winsome daughters. When his exchange ended, Li refused to return to China, leading to a dramatic standoff at the consulate that made headlines across the United States.
Mao’s Last Dancer features some of the most viscerally potent dance ever captured in a fiction film. It also reminds us of the sacrifice ideological defectors make, and of a not-so-distant time when artistic freedom was a human-rights issue – certainly relevant given recent international headlines about nations trying to control the flow of ideas and artists across their borders. Personal passions, it seems, can almost always trump the political if you are willing to go the distance to find your life.
“The themes may soar but everything else – the dialogue, the performances, the direction, the dancing itself – is credibly grounded. That makes for a very pleasing contrast. Not many movies bring their uplift down to earth.” – Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail