Monday, October 26, 2009

Bruce Beresford's film Mao's Last Dancer

Hi. Just back from three days in Adelaide where I saw, on the big former IMAX screen - now cleverly called Ex-imax by the East End Cinema family company who took it over - the superb Australian production Mao's Last Dancer. Director is Bruce Beresford, a national treasure surely.

The film presents the career of dancer Li Cunxin based on his autobiography. Li now lives in Australia with his Australian wife whom he met in Chicago after his defection from the Chinese People's Republic in the '80s. The film moves frequently between the narrative present of this "Chinese Baryshnikoff" and his years of training starting from when he was taken at age 11 in 1972 from a rural Shandong village school, first to Qingdao the provincial capital - and home of the famous beer as I remember - and later to Beijing.

We see the extraordinary development of the boy who is in effect abducted by state officials at the height of the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese just call that terrible time "the eleven years". I have spoken with some whose careers were devastated but who - unlike a million others - at least survived. The film-makers had access to hugely talented dancers, and the result is a delight, yet it's a film for anyone not only ballet lovers. I'm not, for example. I see dancers as elite athletes and admire the incredible dedication needed. Beresford's film pays tribute to that.

On Friday night our little group of pals got together and we discussed the subject of my last posting, the story of Ishi. Did you read it?

Then on Saturday night I caught the final-night performance of Unseen Theatre Company's latest effort at a play version of the Terry Pratchett novel The Last Continent. A spirited cast had the unevenness of almost any amateur group, but gave solid entertainment to a full house in the characterful Bakehouse Theatre in Angas Street, between the W.E.A. and the Hutt Street precinct.

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