Jump to content


This site uses cookies. By using this site, you agree to accept cookies, unless you've opted out. (US government web page with instructions to opt out: http://www.usa.gov/optout-instructions.shtml)

Mao's Last Dancer


  • Please log in to reply
33 replies to this topic

#1 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,330 posts

Posted 15 April 2004 - 12:32 PM

I read Joy Goodwin's The Second Mark, in which the author describes the lives of the top three pairs in the 2002 Olympics, including Shen and Zhao, and Mao's Last Dancer, Li Cunxin's memoir, back to back. Common to the experience of all three people from China were the brutal poverty under which they were raised and the extreme training conditions under which they worked. In one way Li was the luckiest of the three in that he trained indoors and found sympathetic and wise teachers who showed interest in him as a person, but he was also born early enough to have experienced the Cultural Revolution, and political studies took up a lot of time during his early training.

I was already strange for me as a child in the early sixties witnessing the sexual, political, and drug revolutions of the late sixties and early seventies; even if I was a little too young to experience them at the time, they had drastic ramifications for the society in which I became an adult. What is nearly impossible for me to imagine is what it must have been like for Li to have been isolated from all things Western pursuing a single-minded discipline, and then to have been thrown into a new culture in which personal and political freedom were equally extreme from all that he knew.

Has anyone else read this book?

#2 Amy Reusch

Amy Reusch

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,778 posts

Posted 22 October 2004 - 09:01 PM

I've almost finished Mao's Last Dancer, and have rather mixed reactions to it. I enjoyed some of his recollections... particularly the one where on his first airplane flight, embarrassed to be served, he offered to help the stewardess wash the dishes. On the other hand, so much of it reads like he was trying carefully to be politically correct to a wealthy right-wing audience, just as he had learned to be for a different audience when writing his Communist "self-criticisms"... He claims to be interested in freedom, but almost all he writes about during his first visit to the United States was about how impressed by all the wealth he was... It seems very much that he was seeking economic asylum rather than political asylum when he defected. Can you recall anything he said about artistic freedom, other than that Red Detachment of Women was rather limiting? I think he's a flatterer and as a result comes across as insincere... Or perhaps it's just that this is the only time I've ever heard that George HW Bush referred to as a "serious balletomane". I do believe Li was a very hard worker, very committed, but there's so very very little said about physical training after leaving China... I can't imagine that there weren't big differences and interesting adjustments to be made. Perhaps all that was edited out. Once he's defected to America, it becomes rather dull. Please tell me what I'm forgetting.

#3 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,330 posts

Posted 23 October 2004 - 12:03 AM

On the other hand, so much of it reads like he was trying carefully to be politically correct to a wealthy right-wing audience, just as he had learned to be for a different audience when writing his Communist "self-criticisms"...  He claims to be interested in freedom, but almost all he writes about during his first visit to the United States was about how impressed by all the wealth he was... It seems very much that he was seeking economic asylum rather than political asylum when he defected.  Can you recall anything he said about artistic freedom, other than that Red Detachment of Women was rather limiting?  I think he's a flatterer and as a result comes across as insincere...  Or perhaps it's just that this is the only time I've ever heard that George HW Bush referred to as a "serious balletomane".

I don't think Li ever claimed to want to stay in the US for political reasons, either in the book or in about half dozen articles/interviews with/about him I've read. I think he was pretty clear he wanted to stay in the US to be married to the young dancer with whom he was in love at the time.

It isn't surprising that he would be deeply grateful to the Bush family for making it possible for him to survive the stand-off with the Chinese government. After all, a much older and worldlier Fonteyn didn't have many issues hobnobbing with the Marcos' or any number of Latin American dictators and henchmen in their armed fortresses. Li didn't strike me as insincere as much as having embraced Capitalism with the same single-mindedness that he once did Communism.

Once he's defected to America, it becomes rather dull.  Please tell me what I'm forgetting.


I agree that the book fades post defection: it doesn't show much insight about dance or creating roles, and it isn't remotely as interesting as the description of his upbringing and training in China. The only part where the story picks up is his description of his trip back to China with his second wife, Mary. I don't think you're forgetting anything :P

#4 carbro

carbro

    Late Board Registrar

  • Rest in Peace
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,361 posts

Posted 23 October 2004 - 05:03 PM

After all, a much older and worldlier Fonteyn didn't have many issues hobnobbing with the Marcos' or any number of Latin American dictators and henchmen in their armed fortresses.

That Dame Margot was the wife of a diplomat must have affected such dealings.

While there's no question that many artists use their art as a vehicle for their politics, I think most use their art to transcend whatever politics they may or may not have. I have not read the book, so I can't speak to Li's situation. And who knows what advice he might have gotten from any number of well-intended advisers about how directly to speak on political issues?

#5 Amy Reusch

Amy Reusch

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,778 posts

Posted 24 October 2004 - 11:36 AM

It isn't surprising that he would be deeply grateful to the Bush family for making it possible for him to survive the stand-off with the Chinese government.


No, it makes perfect sense... as does that the Bush family would want to help a Communist defect... But charactering Bush Sr. as a serious balletomane seems untruthful and unnecessary flattery. Why not just stick to the truth? It's honorable enough.

#6 Drew

Drew

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,289 posts

Posted 24 October 2004 - 12:26 PM

Surely it's possible he had a conversation with Bush Sr. in which the latter (a reasonably cultured man) knew the names of the top dancers and choreographers and, having been a diplomat for many years himself, was very much able to enter into a brief conversation about dance in a way that gave Li Cunxin the impression he was a balletomane or, at the very least, knew a heck of a lot more about ballet than most politicians. (Bush Sr. must have attended a few galas in his day.) I have no idea if that's what happened but it seems at least as likely as that Li Cunxin was lying for the sake of a compliment. Now, if he had made the remark about Bush Jr., I might be more skeptical...

#7 Amy Reusch

Amy Reusch

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,778 posts

Posted 24 October 2004 - 07:36 PM

Thanks, Drew, that sounds very plausible. From what I gather from the book, it's plausible that Bush Sr. would know the names of more dancers, choreographers and ballets than Li Cunxin would have been exposed to.

#8 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,330 posts

Posted 25 October 2004 - 12:37 AM

That Dame Margot was the wife of a diplomat must have affected such dealings.

I'm sure it did. But there's a difference between describing the life she led with them as fact, and describing how much she liked them without any sense of their actions, when as the wife of a diplomat, she would have been more privy to this than most.

#9 Amy Reusch

Amy Reusch

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,778 posts

Posted 29 October 2004 - 08:34 PM

After having misplaced the book for several days, I finally uncovered it and read the remaining quarter(?)... I have to say that it does pick up again after his 2nd marriage and return to China.... perhaps he was just going through an adjustment period after coming to this country and the book reflected the culture shock.

#10 tempusfugit

tempusfugit

    Senior Member

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 117 posts

Posted 30 October 2004 - 06:46 AM

Couldn't agree more, Amy, with your original post. Li's flattery of Bush Sr. (whom I am astounded to hear characterized as "reasonably cultured"-- in what kindergarten would that be?) is at best appallingly obvious and naive.
It is precisely the fact that Fonteyn does NOT discuss politics or political actions in her Autobiography (she limits her observations to the personal) which makes her coterie of right-wing dictators and their hangers-on slightly less objectionable. in any case, Fonteyn's art is judged on its own merits, not on her taste in associates, as Li's should be as well; Fonteyn, however, was infinitely more graceful in her obligatory bows to the rich and powerful who support ballet.

#11 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,330 posts

Posted 30 October 2004 - 09:26 AM

Li's flattery of Bush Sr. (whom I am astounded to hear characterized as "reasonably cultured"-- in what kindergarten would that be?) is at best appallingly obvious and naive.

I'm not sure why there all this derision towards Bush Sr., who was from a prestigious East Coast family for whom classical culture was a birthright and a generation for whom this was important, who actually studied his way through Yale, and who was a diplomat and statesman before he became President. It sounds like he is being confused with his son, to whom this birthright is meaningless. I may not agree with Bush Sr.'s politics or arts policy, but to call him "reasonably cultured" may even underestimate him.

#12 carbro

carbro

    Late Board Registrar

  • Rest in Peace
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 6,361 posts

Posted 30 October 2004 - 09:48 AM

I agree. In fact, as a product of the New England elite seeking a political career in Texas, he must have decided that he would do best to hide any visible traces of his privileged, sophisticated background. But you can never completely erase such things. Pork rinds? Yeah, right!

The anti-intellectualism (whether real or perceived) in this country is a great shame.

#13 tempusfugit

tempusfugit

    Senior Member

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 117 posts

Posted 30 October 2004 - 02:12 PM

The purpose of this thread, and this board in fact, is not political wrangling, so I shall refrain from the volumes which could be written on Bush Sr. and the infinite derision he so richly deserves. However, I shall add that Bush Sr. was neither scholar, diplomat, statesman, NOR bluestocking, nor member of any other worthwhile category save through the machinations of money, power, and influence. "Prestigious East Coast families" are well known for ensuring that their scions are not required to study their way through Yale, or any other Ivy League school; a new building or at least a new wing is the usual safeguard. Bush Sr.'s yahoo poses and Texan schtick may not fit him as flawlessly as they do his son; however, he is anything but a cultured balletomane.

#14 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 30 October 2004 - 04:51 PM

[Board Host Beanie on]

I recognize that tensions have been running high about the elections and I sympathize as well. Everyone's been incredibly good about leaving that at the door when we discuss ballet. Thanks! It's important that this be a place where anyone who likes ballet feels welcome. It's nice to have some comity in a very fractious time.

Maybe we should give the discussion of all Bush-y things a rest for a few days. I'm sure there are plenty of other aspects of the book to discuss.

[Board Host Beanie off]

#15 sandik

sandik

    Rubies Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,643 posts

Posted 30 October 2004 - 11:40 PM

[Board Host Beanie on]

I recognize that tensions have been running high about the elections and I sympathize as well.  Everyone's been incredibly good about leaving that at the door when we discuss ballet.  Thanks! It's important that this be a place where anyone who likes ballet feels welcome.  It's nice to have some comity in a very fractious time.

Maybe we should give the discussion of all Bush-y things a rest for a few days.  I'm sure there are plenty of other aspects of the book to discuss.

[Board Host Beanie off]

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



I'd just like to say that you wear the beanie very well.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):