Mao’s Last Dancer, a new movie released by Samuel Goldwyn Films, hits American theaters August 20. The film is inspired by Li Cunxin’s autobiography.
Eleven-year-old Cunxin is plucked from his poverty-stricken home in the rural Shandong province of People’s Republic of China to attend The Beijing Dance Academy. When Ben Stevenson (played by Bruce Greenwood), then artistic director of Houston Ballet, travels to Beijing, 18-year-old Cunxin (played by Birmingham Royal Ballet principal Chi Cao) returns to Texas with the
company as an exchange student. Struggling to uphold his Communist identity in late 1970s Houston, Cunxin rises to stardom within the company and falls in love with dance student Elizabeth Mackey (Center Stage star Amanda Schull). Rashly marrying Mackey, Cunxin applies for an extension to his visa so he can stay in the U.S., but political upheaval in China holds him hostage in the Chinese Consulate for 21 hours. Cunxin is forced to choose to either return home or defect—exiling him from China forever.
Mao’s Last Dancer is rich with historical content and stunning dance performances. It is directed by Academy Award nominee Bruce Beresford and features choreography by Australian choreographer Graeme Murphy.
Photo: Chi Cao a s Li Cunxin (with Camilla Vergotis) in Mao’s Last Dancer. Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Film