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Jan 26th
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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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Force of Nature

Santa Cruz’s Carlie Statsky brings her love of the natural world to the hyper-personal art of wedding photography

 

Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius

The magical time of Mercury’s retrograde cycle is here once again, until Feb. 11, and then some. The Mercury retro cycle actually lasts eight weeks when we consider its retrograde shadow, giving us six months a year for review. We know the rules of Mercury retro: Be careful with everything; cars, driving, money, resources, friends, friendships, groups, interactions, thinking, talking, communications. Avoid big purchases, important meetings and important repairs. Mercury retrograde times are for review, reassessment and rest. Our minds are overloaded from the last Mercury retro. Our minds need to assess what we’ve done since October—eliminating what is not needed, keeping what’s important, preparing for new information in the next three months (till mid-May). Mercury in Aquarius retrograde … we reinvent ourselves, seek the unusual, we don’t hide, we’re just careful. We live in two worlds; outer appearances and inner reckonings, with both sides of our brain activated. Yet, like the light of the Gemini twins, one light waxes (inner world), the other (outer realities) wanes. Like Virgo, we see what’s been overlooked—assessing, ordering and organizing information. It’s an entirely inner process. When speaking we may utter only half of the sentence. We’re in the underworld, closer to Spirit, eyes unseeing, senses alerted, re-doing things over and over till we sometimes collapse. Because we’re in other realms, we’re wobbly, make mistakes, and don’t really know what we want. It’s not a time for decisions. Not yet. It’s a time of review. And completing things. Mercury retro: integration, slowing down, resolution, rapprochement.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of January 23

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