Friday, 5 March 2010

Mao's Last Dancer

A couple of weeks ago, I got lucky. Sadly not in the Gerard-Butler-dressed-as-a-fireman kind of way, but still, lucky. I won tickets to a breakfast at the Cape Town Convention Centre hosted by world-famous ballet dancer and author Li Cunxin. (Pronounced "Lee Schwin Sing")

Now to be fair, up until quite recently, his name didn't really ring a bell. But he's the Chinese dancer who defected to the States in the early eighties, after a pretty precarious stand-off at the Chinese embassy. Since then he has toured the world as a principal dancer, and has subsequently retired from ballet and gone on to write his autobiography: Mao's Last Dancer, published in 2003. This critically acclaimed book has recently been adapted into a feature film, directed by Bruce Beresford.

When I received the news that I had won tickets, it seemed only fitting that I read the book. And I'm so glad I did - what a story! From the most unimaginable poverty, 11 year old Li was randomly chosen to audition for the Beijing Dance Academy where he struggled his way to becoming a world-class dancer. It's a story of determination, perseverance and great personal sacrifice - beautifully told with humbleness and modesty.

So after speed-reading the book over the weekend, the Monday morning breakfast talk was really special. Cunxin is in his late forties now and lives in Australia with his wife and children. He's an eloquent speaker who keeps his audience captivated with personal anecdotes that share a little of what it was like to grow up in a world so far away from the one I know. 

Mao's Last Dancer is certainly worth the read, though there's nothing wrong with just watching the movie. That said, I thought the book was much better than the movie - it offered a better sense of where Cunxin is from, and the truly great sacrifices he made to be where he is today.
  Ms Featherstone took this photie. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

One of the most beautiful movie about dance, performances, and perseverance. I just Loved it!
A must see movie.

Nic said...

Agreed. Those moves are phenomenal!

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