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Mar 27th
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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 Spring signs Aries, Taurus and Gemini constitute a triangle of force that sets the template for the nine signs that follow and the template for the entire year (Spring 2015 - Spring 2016) ahead. Aries initiates new ideas, Taurus stabilizes the new thinking of Aries and Gemini takes the initiating stabilized ideas of Aries/Taurus and disperses them to all of humanity. It is in this way that humanity learns new things, with the help of Mercury, the messenger. As Spring unfolds, three elements emerge: the Fire of Aries (initiating new ideas), the Earth of Taurus (anchoring the ideas of God through Mercury) and the Air of communicating Gemini. These three signs/elements are the Three Spring Festivals. They are the “triangle of force” forming the template (patterns) of energy for the upcoming new year. After these three we then have the soothing, calming, warming, nurturing and tending waters of the mother (Cancer). Cancer initiates our next season under the hot suns of summer. Planets, stars and signs create the Temple of Light directing humanity towards all things new. March 29 is Palm Sunday, when the Christ, World Teacher, was led into Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (humility). Palms waving above His head, signified recognition of the Christ’s divinity. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before the Easter (Resurrection Festival). Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the week of capture, imprisonment, passion, sacrifice, crucifixion, death and resurrection of the christ. All events in the Christ’s life represent events (initiations) that humanity experiences through many lifetimes. We turn our attention to these holy events this week. Their concepts portray and reveal to us greater spiritual understanding. Then, Aries, the “light of life itself” shines through us.

 

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