Last night I broke the cardinal rule of responsible parents: I kept my child out quite late.
Mao’s Last Dancer opened in theaters on August 20, and I was desperate to see it.
Last year I stumbled upon Li Cunxin’s memoir of the same name at my public library. His story was incredible. Plucked from a cold village in Shandong province at an early age and sent to train as a ballet dancer in Beijing, Li became a star in Madame Mao ballets promoting the revolution. Then when a visiting group from the Houston Ballet met Li in Beijing in 1981, he was offered a three month internship in Houston. The Chinese government wasn’t sure his revolutionary fervor was strong enough to resist the evils of the West, but one sympathetic instructor endorsed Li’s candidacy. And the rest is history.
The only theaters in the Chicago area showing this film were miles and miles away. So after I put the younger kids to bed and my husband came home, I drove 25 miles with my 12 year-old. We found our seats just as Li Cunxin came off the plane in Houston.
I thought the film was very true to Li’s memoir. The visuals of rural Shandong juxtaposed against the glittery discos of Houston almost seemed more striking on film than in print. The only part that seemed rushed in the film was the part about Li’s first marriage. Out of the blue, he had marital problems and after one fight, they’d broken up. But that really wasn’t central to his story, so I can see how the screenwriter would skim over that section.
My son is exhausted this morning, but he loved the movie and appreciated the invitation to see it. He has a better understanding of the climate and landscape of his father’s childhood in rural China. And maybe even how that generation of Chinese youth, who were taken from home at an early age to serve in Madame Mao’s propaganda arts institutions, lost more than just their youth. Like Li’s first wife, it’s something I learned a thing or two about the hard way.