“Mao’s Last Dancer” is probably my new favorite movie – a rich biopic that follows the renowned Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin from his brutal apprenticeship in a Beijing studio for gifted youths to his star-turn as a headliner for the Houston Ballet. There’s a love story woven in for good measure that reminds me of my courtship with the wife, who has proven herself to be quite a dancer in her own right.
Li is played by Chi Cao, a principal at the Birmingham Royal Ballet. In a nutshell, a little kid in poverty-stricken village shows a knack for dance, is identified by party cadre to be developed into a world-class dancer and whisked away to learn the tricks of the trade in the ballet equivalent of a sweatshop. Turns out he really is good and participates in a cultural exchange program with the Houston Ballet, where he meets his love interest, played by Amanda Schull.
Full disclosure: I’ve suppressed my love of ballet for a long time. Since seeing the Cold War epic “White Nights,” I was mesmerized by a dancer’s athleticism and courage. Witness this clip, which shines the spotlight on my favorite – Mikhail Baryshnikov – as suave ’80s pop mainstay Lionel Richie mouths the immortal lyrics of “Say You, Say Me.”
Back to “Last Dancer.” Li’s love interest is played by Schull, another real ballet dancer who has been a familiar face to fans of the ABC Family series “Pretty Little Liars.” The first time the love-struck couple sees each other for the first time reminds me of my first encounter with the wife, after we arranged via Jdate.com an initial chaperoned get-together in a Ballston-area cha-cha studio. Chi and Schull sizzle as their physical chemistry burns white-hot in the Houston troupe. I was breathless from beginning to end. The movie promo poster promised inspiration and delivered in spades.
*You are a gullible fool. A thousand lashings to you for accepting my secret love of ballet without question. No, I did not meet the wife using JDate.com (we actually used another dating service). As “Rocky 3” bad guy Clubber Lang would say…