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Sep 01st
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Mao's Last Dancer

film_MAO5It’s really a tale of two dancers. One, Li Cunxin, a peasant boy plucked out of his rural Chinese village and sent to the Beijing Arts Academy toward the end of the Mao Zedong regime, became one of the most prominent ballet dancers in the world. The other, Chi Cao, is the phenomenal young Chinese ballet star who plays Li in Bruce Beresford’s heartfelt, rewarding film. Scripted by Jan Sardi (Shine) from Li’s autobiography, the film sticks to the highlights of Li’s incredible journey, but dramatic resonance and Beresford’s beautifully shot dance sequences keep the viewer enchanted. The sixth of seven sons, Li grows up in a poor family presided over by loving parents (Joan Chen is wonderful as his humble, but feisty mother); newspaper lines the walls and they share a communal soup bowl at mealtimes. By mere happenstance, 11-year-old Li is sent off for years of grueling training in Beijing, where Communist Party officials demand more “politics and guns” in the students’ repertoire. Homesick at first, Li blossoms under a caring teacher (who smuggles him an illicit video of “the defector” Baryshnikov), and his own determination. In 1981, in an early, tentative cultural exchange program between China and the West, Li is invited by Artistic Director Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood) to study with the Houston Ballet. As he copes with language, first love, conspicuous western consumption, and the citizens’ freedom to make unflattering remarks about their leaders in public, Li’s career trajectory is astronomical; in the best musical-comedy tradition, he goes on for an injured principle dancer one night and film_maos_last_dancercomes offstage a star. His prominence finally leads to a famous standoff at the Chinese Embassy when his government tries to reel him back in. (Kyle McLachlan digs into a juicy role as immigration lawyer Charles Foster, who spearheads an international media response in a matter of hours.) The young actors who play the boy and teenage Li (Wen Bin Huang and Chengwu Guo) are completely engaging. Cao (himself a Beijing Dance Academy grad who now dances with the Royal Ballet, Birmingham) is an effective actor, but his astonishing dancing literally makes the film soar. I’m not a fan of too much camera trickery, but whenever Beresford slows down a few frames in mid-jeté or spin so we can better view Cao’s artistry and count the rotations, it’s breathtaking. (PG) 117 minutes. In subtitled Mandarin and English. (★★★) LJ
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The Meaning of ‘LIFE’

With a new documentary film about his work, and huge exhibits on both coasts, acclaimed Santa Cruz nature photographer Frans Lanting is having a landmark year. But his crusade for conservation doesn’t leave much time for looking back

 

Seasons of Opportunity

Everything in our world has a specific time (a season) in which to accomplish a specific work—a “season” that begins (opportunity) and ends (time’s up). I can feel the season is changing. The leaves turning colors, the air cooler, sunbeams casting shadows in different places. It feels like a seasonal change has begun in the northern hemisphere. Christmas is in four months, and 2015 is swiftly speeding by. Soon it will be autumn and time for the many Festivals of Light. Each season offers new opportunities. Then the season ends and new seasons take its place. Humanity, too, is given “seasons” of opportunity. We are in one of those opportunities now, to bring something new (Uranus) into our world, especially in the United States. Times of opportunity can be seen in the astrology chart. In the U.S. chart, Uranus (change) joins Chiron (wound/healing). This symbolizes a need to heal the wounds of humanity. Uranus offers new archetypes, new ways of doing things. The Uranus/Chiron (Aries/Pisces) message is, “The people of the U.S. are suffering. New actions are needed to bring healing and well-being to humanity. So the U.S. can fulfill its spiritual task of standing within the light and leading humanity within and toward the light.” Thursday, Aquarius Moon, Mercury enters Libra. The message, “To bring forth the new order in the world, begin with acts of Goodwill.” Goodwill produces right relations with everyone and everything. The result is a world of progressive well-being and peacefulness (which is neither passive nor the opposite of war). Saturday is the full moon, the solar light of Virgo streaming into the Earth. Our waiting now begins, for the birth of new light at winter solstice. The mother (hiding the light of the soul, the holy child), identifying the feminine principle, says, “I am the mother and the child. I, God (Father), I Matter (Mother), We are One.”

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of August 28

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