Monday, 8 March 2010

Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin

I have come to love reading biographies. My reading habits nowadays usually see me alternate a fiction title with a biography or memoir of some sort. There are a few which have really stood out for me, even several years after reading them. Mao's Last Dancer (2003), by Li Cunxin, is one such title.

Li Cunxin was the sixth of seven boys born into a peasant family in rural China during the 1960s. He describes growing up in poverty in a home filled with love and support from his parents and brothers, but very little in the way of food or material possessions. Opportunities are few, but then, quite suddenly, Li is selected as a possible candidate for Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy. What initially appears to be a fairytale unfolds, although the path is not easy. Li makes it to the United States, a capitalist country he was brought up to feel sorry for, for a three-month stint with the Houston Ballet. Naturally, things are not how he was led to believe and a huge culture shock results.

The book was released this week as a movie in New Zealand. Like most books I have read that have been adapted into movies, I was a little tentative about going to see it, wondering if it could possibly live up to my expectations or my love for the book. On the whole, it was pretty good. Li's childhood had much greater prevalence in his book, and this was mostly referred to during the movie in the form of flashbacks. As was to be expected, the movie focused more on his time as a dancer, and many specific details about the Chinese communist regime were implied, rather than explained. The dancing throughout the film was spectacular and there was barely a dry eye in the theatre at one particularly emotional point (I won't give it away). Well worth checking out.

No comments: