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Feb 11th
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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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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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