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 Post subject: Mao's Last Dancer - the movie
PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:52 pm 
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The movie version of Mao's Last Dancer begins shooting in March. Among the dancers who will appear are Steven Heathcote, Madeleine Eastoe and Amanda Schull. Actors include Bruce Greenwood, Kyle McLachlan, Aden Young, Shungbao Wang and Joan Chen.

http://www.varietyasiaonline.com/content/view/5569/1/


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2008 1:32 pm 
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More details on the movie from the Sydney Morning Herald, including cast and choreography.

The choreography will be done by Sydney Dance Company director Graeme Murphy. Ci Cao, a principal dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, will dance the role of the adult Li Cunxin whilst Chengwu Guo (Australia Ballet) will play the teenage Li.

His first wife will be played by Amanda Schull, while Camilla Vergotis (Hong Kong Ballet, formerly Australian Ballet) will play Mary McKendry. Joan Chen will play his mother.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/arts/dancing ... 44468.html


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 26, 2009 2:24 pm 
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The world premiere is scheduled to take place next month at the Toronto International Film Festival. I'm crossing my fingers that there will be single tickets available for one of the three showings!

The TIFF page has photos and a nice trailer:

http://www.tiff08.ca/filmsandschedules/ ... lastdancer


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 04, 2009 6:57 am 
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Through some miracle - considering that the phones were busy and the internet system very dodgy - I have managed to get a ticket for the final showing of Mao's Last Dancer at the festival (September 19th).

The world premiere is apparently sold out (September 13) and the second showing is at 9am during the week, but at least I have a chance to see the movie months before it will probably be on regular screens.

I will definitely report in after I see the movie, and am going to keep checking back to see if any premiere tickets do become available.

Kate


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2009 6:05 am 
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An update - I was able to get a ticket to the world premiere, so shall report back this evening or tomorrow on the movie.

Kate


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2009 8:07 pm 
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Wow...

It's a shame that this movie, as far as I know, doesn't have an opening date outside of Australia, because it is wonderful. It does not try to be a "ballet movie", instead it simply and elegantly tells the incredible life story of a man who found freedom through dance.

It was very moving to attend the world premiere in the intimate Wintergarden Theatre, with many of the actors present and to hear Li and Chi Cao (who played the adult Li) answer questions afterwords. Some of the other people depicted in the movie were also in attendance, so it was interesting to watch a movie knowing that the real people were there.

This movie was very close to my heart, as I grew up in Houston , saw Li dance many times, and met him through mutual friends. Though I was too young to remember meeting him and many of the major events - his defection and his parents' visit, my parents can tell the stories and knew some of the people involved. He was my first 'dance idol', and I still respect him greatly as a dancer and as a human being.

What struck me about the movie is that it condenses the book while taking very few liberties with the story, and includes some of the most beautifully shot dance ever to be on screen. We see excerpts from ballets Li danced as a student in China, the Don Q pas de deux, a version of Rite of Spring, and bits of Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake. Nothing earth-shattering, but captured on camera with a delicacy that is far better than the very stiff, artificial feel of previous dance in movies. My only slight annoyance were the very occasional moments when the dance was slo-mo-ed. However, it served more to highlight the stunning technique, and didn't detract from the whole.

The movie was shot in Houston (exteriors only), Australia and China, with dancers from the Australian Ballet performing in the above mentioned excerpts, and several in acting/dancing roles. Hong Kong Ballet dancer Camille Vergiotis has a smaller role as Li's wife Mary McKendry.

The real find however, is Birmingham Royal Ballet principal Chi Cao, who was the adult Li (there were three actors who played Li at different ages, and the boy who was the teenage Li has just gotten a contract with Australian Ballet). Chi is a phenomenal dancer, and very natural actor - this is light years ahead of the cringe-inducing acting of the dancers in "CenterStage". In the questions afterwords - which Chi answered with great aplomb - he said that the experience of acting in the movie has really helped his ability to create characters on the stage.

However, Chi didn't have to do much research for this role -Chi's parents were house masters at the Beijing Ballet Academy, and Li has known Chi since he was a youngster.
And had been through the same school, albeit in a very different time. (Chi initially came to the UK in 1995 at age 15, and returns each summer to visit his parents - there were never any major restrictions on his ability to go back and forth. Unlike Li, who was one of 7 children, Chi is a child of the 'one child' era, and has no siblings. And expressed some hesitations about being so far from home, when he is the only one... A fascinating contrast which highlights the changes in Chinese relations with the world and China itself).

I give great credit to those involved for so aptly recreating the feeling of late 1960s China and the rather unique, loveable tackiness of 1980s Houston. They got Houston spot-on, right down to the cowboy hats, shellac-ed hairdos, semi-naive un PC-ness and disco dancing. We even got shots of the Galleria & its ice rink (where I learned to skate), the fabulous Miller Outdoor Theatre (remember seeing Cinderella there...oh those picnics) and the oil pipeline and rigs down on the water.

For those familiar with ballet, there may be some grins over the odd jumps between the Houston exteriors, and the Australian interiors/dancers. The studio shots were all done at the Australian Ballet - I've been in that studio - and the Swan Lake is decidedly all Australian. While Houston Ballet may do Graeme Murphy's choreography now, they certainly didn't back in the mid-1980s, and, in any case, that choreography didn't exist back then. Steven Heathcote and Madeline Easttoe are passable as Houston Ballet dancers - acting is fine, dancing is excellent, accent is a good attempt :o)

The movie starts with Li on his first trip to the US, and flashes back to his childhood in China. Joan Chen is very touching as his mother - who is still alive today, though his father passed on earlier this year. We see enough of his childhood to understand some of the deprivation, though it's worth reading the book to really understand the sacrifices he and his family made. And some of the most natural and touching scenes are those in the Beijing Dance Academy - boys in the dorm room, dancers on their first day, pas de deux class, with (I'm guessing) actual students from the academy.

I was interested in the coverage the movie gave to Li's relationship with his first wife - something that is touched on, but not overly elaborated in the book. Amanda Schull plays her very well - they were a very young couple, challenged by youth, cultural differences, the traumatic experience at the embassy, and the increasing split in their career paths - he was heading places while she couldn't even get a corps contract. I think the movie handled it well, placing the relationship in the context of the rest of the events in his life - he was unable to see his parents for nearly 5 years after his defection and didn't return to China until, I believe, many years later.'

The movie also depicts the dramatic events of Li's defection when he was held in the Chinese consulate. Though it is not nearly as widely remembered as Baryishnikov's relatively more sedate leap to freedom, Li's defection was quite dramatic - he was held against his will in the Chinese consulate in Houston, and freed after the intervention of then vice-president George (the elder) Bush. The results were painful - a half decade separation from his family, and the shunning of his family by many people back in China.

I will be interested to see how this movie goes over with a more general public - rather than those like me who grew up knowing Li's story even before the book came out. From the bits and pieces I picked up, it seemed to attract the general audience and people were very moved by the story - I was far from the only one crying by the end. I really think Mao's Last Dancer has the potential to be a movie that brings regular people to ballet - it goes so far beyond ballet, doesn't trying to force the ballet at the audience, and is about real people, real places and real sacrifice.

Someone in our audience asked when Chi Cao was going to dance in Toronto - a great question. I bet the Royal Ballet is rue-ing not hiring him out of their school, and it would be great to see him get some publicity outside the UK and China. It could be a great PR grab for companies to have him guest when the movie opens in other places across the globe.

As a note, there was a brief shot of a poster for Cranko's "The Lady and the Fool" in the movie, and I actually saw Chi Cao dance in the ballet when the BRB toured to Edinburgh in 2005. I had circled his name in the program, and looking back at my notes, this is what I had to say:

"She was partnered by Tyrone Singleton, Kosuke Yamamoto and the standout, Chi Cao, who stood out for the clarity and power in his solo."

and

"Chi Cao was again impressive, this time as Capitano Adoncino..."

Finally, for those who are interested, the changes made for the movie...

* In the movie, Li defects at the end of his first stay in the US - he actually defected at the end of his second stay.

* I don't think the consulate official who kept Li in the Houston consulate got a happy ending... (one of the conflicts the movie handled well - the injustice of Li's being kept 'hostage' juxtaposed against the consulate official being placed in an impossible position - he was only following orders in order to keep his own job...)

* Contrary to the movie, Li did know ahead of time that his parents were coming to the US, and they did not go up on stage. However, they indeed were late, received a police escort to the theatre and a standing ovation when they arrived.

* I also don't think Li and Elizabeth's relationship was quite such a secret. For one, especially back then, there weren't that many options for nightlife, and certainly a small dance community.

* I think also, on both occasions, two male dancers came on the exchange from China to Texas - it wasn't just Li.

* Oh, and I don't remember Ben Stevenson ever being quite so svelte as Bruce Greenwood :o)

I would COMPLETELY recommend this movie to ballet fans and non ballet fans alike. It opens in Australia on October 1st and will hopefully find distributors ASAP for Europe, US and Canada.

As a note, I have a ticket for the September 19 (Saturday) showing in Toronto that I will sell or give away if anyone would like to go. That showing (and the one on Wednesday) are sold out, but there should be tickets released the day of the showings - you can call or go in person to buy those.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2009 7:10 am 
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http://www.screendaily.com/festivals/to ... 15.article

First review, though one written in a tone that sounds like reviewer had no real interest in going to the movie - and didn't do any research at all. To call, what was actually a less-brutal-than-reality depiction of someone's life, "barely credible" is rather insulting. And his dilution of the movie down to "goodies vs. baddies" sounds like he wasn't watching very carefully.

Plus, I think the reviewer's need to bring the "definitely heterosexual" bit into the review reveals his (the reviewer's) own biases, and is totally irrelevant. The movie is about a particular dancer, and, to be blunt, Li's reality was dance or starve. I'm sure there were gay dancers in China and in Houston, but that was not relevant to the story or the storyline.

Anyway, here's coming that there will be more reviews from reviewers who give a bit more thought to their task...

Kate


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2009 12:39 pm 
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Thank you , Kate, for such a wonderfully detailed review and discussion. I look forward to seeing the film whenever it lands in my proximity.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2009 6:09 pm 
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Another review: http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117941 ... id=31&cs=1


I think this reviewer is more accurate - perhaps the problem is that Li's story is almost too good to be true. So it's hard to believe that what is shown isn't made up melodrama...

He is right about the likely popularity in Australia - Li's book was a bestseller and he is well known there. I would think the movie might also do well in the UK, as Chi Cao dances there, as well as with ballet/dance fans in the US.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 21, 2009 12:40 pm 
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I'm happy to report that the movie was the first runner up for the People's Choice Award, a great honor considering that there were over 300 movies at the festival.

That said, I thought TIFF did a terrible job in making people aware how to vote for the award. I wanted to vote, but could not find any information on the website nor was any info provided at the screening. My guess was that the voting forms were the 'prize draw' forms handed out at the theatre, but this was not made clear and the forms were not handed out to everyone. At the Edinburgh Film Festival ballots were handed out to each person entering each screening and an announcement was made prior to every screening about the voting process. A People's Choice Award is not that if people don't know how to vote!


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 11:59 am 
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Li Cunxin is interviewed by Andrew Fenton in Adelaide Now:

Adelaide Now


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 12:35 pm 
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It appears that the film is opening in Australia on October 1. Moviehole has two interviews: one with Li Cunxin and Chi Cao; the other with Amanda Schull and Camilla Vergotis:

Li Cunxin and Chi Cao interview

Amanda Schull and Camilla Vergotis interview


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 05, 2009 4:01 pm 
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Thank you ksneds for your wonderful review of the movie and other information about this film. I can't wait until it comes out in the US. I was a dancer in Houston Ballet at the time of Li's defection and it was quite an experience. By the way his relationship and subsequent marriage to Elizabeth was a huge surprise to all of us. They truly kept it hidden. There was no real indication that anything was going on and we were a small very tightly knit company. I did read the book and it brought back so many memories. I am sad they didn't include the fact that there was another student there as well as he was wisked off to the embassy as soon as Li requested to stay in the US. From what I know it was a very traumatic experience for him. But I can understand why the film maker wanted to keep the focus on Li's story. I am anxious also to see how the film is accepted by the general public.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 05, 2009 7:50 pm 
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I do hope it find a US/CAN distributor. According to a wrap-up article from the Toronto Film Festival, the film hadn't yet found a North American distributor as of the last day of the festival. Not great, but certainly not yet that worrisome - I suspect they will find an art-house type company to distribute it to limited theatres.

The openings in Melbourne, and then across Australia seem to have been major events. There are many images from the Melbourne opening on Getty and Yahoo, with a number of fairly well known Australian stars attending. Many of the openings were also benefits for a charity that helps deaf children - Li's oldest daughter is profoundly deaf. The movie opened for general distribution on October 1st, and the reviews have ranged in the 3-4 star (out of 5) range. I agree with most of the general criticisms - there are slower parts and some of the acting is not Hollywood's finest, but far better than a lot of the schlock that is released these days. I think the movie has the 'handicap' of telling a story that, despite being true, seems too melodramatic to be true. So it can seem a bit much for those who don't know the whole story.

A few corrections to the above...

OK, I have looked at some pictures and at that Ben Stevenson was actually more slender than I thought. By the time I remember anything, he was no longer quite that slim :o)

Also, the Chinese ballet students in the movie were apparently drawn from a number of schools. So they were probably not Beijing Academy students.

To clarify - I have met Li more recently - I interviewed him for CriticalDance in 2006 when I was Melbourne. And I have memories of watching him dance - just not actually meeting him, though my parents remember us meeting him on several occasions.

I did have the pleasure of chatting with Li briefly at a reception the weekend of the premiere, and am amazed at how young he still looks. It's hard to believe that his oldest daughter is 20 and the youngest is about 12. There is a picture of the whole family at the Melbourne premiere on Facebook (only Li and Mary came to Toronto), and his son is taller than both Li and Mary (and got all their good looks too!).

Kate


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 1:35 pm 
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An interview with Chi Cao (who plays Li Cunxin) by Jane Cornwell in The Australian;

The Australian


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