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Mao's Last Dancer


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#16 bart

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Posted 26 August 2010 - 02:41 PM

For non-dancers, or people not used to watching ballet much/at all, the slow motion shows up what the dancer is ACTUALLY doing. An untrained eye just isn't able to see the complexity and technical accomplishment at full speed. A friend of mine actually confirmed it when she took her non-ballet loving family to see it and they picked out those moments as most impressive.

Thanks for making that observation, Ostrich. (And for backing it up with a little bit of "research" among non-ballet lovers.) It think you are right.

One difficulty that non-ballet people have (and, with some choreography, I include myself among this group) is that they just can't SEE everything, even in a solo or pas de deux. If you can't really see, you can never really understand. That means that you never can become familiar with many of the movements or fully appreciate the artistry.

I'm convinced that this is one reason that audiences focus on a handful of dramatic and familiar movements that they CAN see -- fouettes, big jumps, multiple pirouettes. When the audience starts applauding these movements, you can almost feel their relief. "At last, something I can see and understand."

Like you, I also like to look at videos of certain choreography in time-lapse or slow motion, to improve my sense of what is actually going on and especially to look more closely at what the dancer is doing with his or her body. This is also why many of us who do not have the advantage of ballet training like to rewind and repeat certain parts of videos.

#17 Ostrich

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Posted 27 August 2010 - 09:52 AM

Like you, I also like to look at videos of certain choreography in time-lapse or slow motion, to improve my sense of what is actually going on and especially to look more closely at what the dancer is doing with his or her body. This is also why many of us who do not have the advantage of ballet training like to rewind and repeat certain parts of videos.


Interestingly, Ilyaballet on Youtube has been asked whether he uses slow motion to observe his students, and claimed that he does. I can' recall on which of his clips this is, but definitely on one of his many Bolshoi school videos.

#18 Fleegull

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 06:24 PM

I saw the film last night and I was wondering if anyone knew the name of the pas de deux that Li dances when he first meets the Houston Ballet Company where he and the ballerina dance around and on the barre. At one point, he holds her aloft and she dances en pointe on the barre. It was so lovely.

#19 MJ

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 06:53 PM

Some of the solo Dancing looked Computer generated, reminding me of "Blades of Glory" skating scenes. Beautiful movie and very moving.

#20 JMcN

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 08:51 AM

I saw the film last night and I was wondering if anyone knew the name of the pas de deux that Li dances when he first meets the Houston Ballet Company where he and the ballerina dance around and on the barre. At one point, he holds her aloft and she dances en pointe on the barre. It was so lovely.


I think it may have been Ben Stevenson's Three Preludes but I'm not 100% certain as choreography for the film is attributed to Graeme Murphy.

I would be surprised if the dance scenes were CGI (apart from using computers to slomo the action) - Chi really is that spectacular!

#21 Fleegull

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 11:38 PM


I saw the film last night and I was wondering if anyone knew the name of the pas de deux that Li dances when he first meets the Houston Ballet Company where he and the ballerina dance around and on the barre. At one point, he holds her aloft and she dances en pointe on the barre. It was so lovely.


I think it may have been Ben Stevenson's Three Preludes but I'm not 100% certain as choreography for the film is attributed to Graeme Murphy.

I would be surprised if the dance scenes were CGI (apart from using computers to slomo the action) - Chi really is that spectacular!


Thank you very much!

#22 MJ

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 05:42 AM

I think it may have been Ben Stevenson's Three Preludes but I'm not 100% certain as choreography for the film is attributed to Graeme Murphy.

I would be surprised if the dance scenes were CGI (apart from using computers to slomo the action) - Chi really is that spectacular!


Chi's legs in the Don Q solos were slightly unnatural, too choppy. The costume he wore was a giveaway, the white neckline makes it easy to play with the head and neck. When the DVD comes out, you will be able to tell.

I think all the dancing was Chi's but they may have cuts bits and pieces from different individual performances. Movie editors do that.

I liked seeing a ballet movie about Heterosexual men, it's about time!

#23 Ray

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 06:00 AM

I liked seeing a ballet movie about Heterosexual men, it's about time!



And how many ballet movies are there out there about gay men?

#24 Helene

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 06:14 AM


I liked seeing a ballet movie about Heterosexual men, it's about time!



And how many ballet movies are there out there about gay men?

How many ballet movies are there about men? How many movies are there about gay men?

#25 dirac

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 10:16 AM



I liked seeing a ballet movie about Heterosexual men, it's about time!


And how many ballet movies are there out there about gay men?

How many ballet movies are there about men? How many movies are there about gay men?


A fair number I can think off offhand, going back to at least "The Red Shoes," where it's made clear, without any overtness, that Lermontov's possessiveness of his ballerinas is not sexual. The next major ballet feature film, "The Turning Point," also dealt with the issue, sort of, by having the male dancers played by Baryshnikov and Tom Skerritt be heterosexual but talking freely of "bisexuality." "Nijinsky" was of course about Nijinsky and Diaghilev. "Center Stage," like "The Turning Point," was at some pains to suggest that there are plenty of straight guys in ballet, with only one gay supporting character of any prominence. I don't remember much about the supporting players in "Dancers," but Baryshnikov plays a character based on his reputation as famous danseur and ladies' man (also see "White Nights"). "The Company" has Malcolm McDowell's big speech. In the recent BBC film about Fonteyn, her artistic mentor is gay and she has an affair with a gay man.

One way or another, the matter of which sex the guys are sleeping with is often hovering around in ballet movies. It sounds as if the ballet master in "Black Swan" played by Vincent Cassel is aggressively heterosexual, so we'll see how that works out.

It is true that the protagonists of ballet films tend to be women, in part because ballet is popularly identified with women, but there are also Baryshnikov's starring vehicles to be considered and the Nijinsky biopic. Also, the only two dancers of the dance boom era who had meaningful careers as movie stars were two men, Nureyev and Baryshnikov.


#26 Helene

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 10:36 AM

While there are gay characters in all of the movies you mentioned -- I didn't see the Fonteyn bio-pic :speechless-smiley-003: -- in the Baryshnikov movies, he's the leading man, and he's such a playah: you don't get any straighter than that in movie terms. There's are two short scenes in which Skerritt's sexuality is discussed: when in the heat of an argument, Bancroft' Emma accuses Maclaine's Deedee of marrying him because (paraphrase) "back in those days a man in ballet meant 'queer'", and later when Deedee tells him that there was some truth to this, and he responds that he married her to prove it, too, which could also be interpreted that, as a male ballet dancer, he needed the outward validation, not that he was unsure he was straight. Jeez, they even made James Mitchell's character in "The Turning Point" straight. In "Center Stage", four of the five main main characters are emphatically straight -- Stiefel's Cooper, Radetsky's Charlie, Kulik's Yuri, and Gallagher's Jonathan.

There have been only a handful of ballet movies, which is too bad.

#27 dirac

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 11:26 AM

While there are gay characters in all of the movies you mentioned -- I didn't see the Fonteyn bio-pic :speechless-smiley-003: -- in the Baryshnikov movies, he's the leading man, and he's such a playah: you don't get any straighter than that in movie terms. There's are two short scenes in which Skerritt's sexuality is discussed: when in the heat of an argument, Bancroft' Emma accuses Maclaine's Deedee of marrying him because (paraphrase) "back in those days a man in ballet meant 'queer'", and later when Deedee tells him that there was some truth to this, and he responds that he married her to prove it, too, which could also be interpreted that, as a male ballet dancer, he needed the outward validation, not that he was unsure he was straight. Jeez, they even made James Mitchell's character in "The Turning Point" straight. In "Center Stage", four of the five main main characters are emphatically straight -- Stiefel's Cooper, Radetsky's Charlie, Kulik's Yuri, and Gallagher's Jonathan.


Yes, I know and I believe much of that was in my post :) The question had been asked as to where the gay and straight guys were in ballet films, and it was to those questions I was responding. Brief scenes are not necessarily unimportant ones; the question of male dancers' sexuality is all over "The Turning Point," beginning with the scene where Skerritt observes that Yuri's success will make it okay for American boys to be dancers. John Simon pointed this out in his review at the time and he also observed that the prominent heterosexuality was essentially a false view, agree or disagree as you like.

Mitchell's character is not purely heterosexual - he had an affair with Emma in the distant past but it is also suggested that the affair ended because of his preference for men. (As I said, the movie talks mostly of bisexuality - I think that Ross, Laurents, and Kaye may also have wanted to assure the public that it was okay for American boys to be dancers - the ballet dancer equals queer perception hadn't gone away at all, and "Center Stage" is evidence that it still hasn't.)

Baryshnikov is the only ballet dancer to become a mass market movie star and he did so playing variations on the public perception of himself, if you'll forgive my repeating myself. I don't think it could have happened any other way.

If the question becomes, "Is there a ballet film with a boy meets boy love affair at its center?" then the only one I can think of off the top of my head is, "Nijinsky" and that's likely to be true for some time to come.

#28 Helene

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 02:23 PM

The question had been asked as to where the gay and straight guys were in ballet films, and it was to those questions I was responding.

The intial comment was "I liked seeing a ballet movie about Heterosexual men", which I took to mean where a heterosexual man is the focus of the movie or main male character, since the second most prominent character in "Mao's Last Dancer" is Ben Stevenson.

Mitchell's character is not purely heterosexual - he had an affair with Emma in the distant past but it is also suggested that the affair ended because of his preference for men.

Where, specifically? I've watched the movie a dozen times over two decades, and I never caught that.

#29 GWTW

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 07:21 AM

The forthcoming 'Black Swan' will have girl on girl action. However, from the trailer it looks like this behaviour is presented more as male-fantasy style 'dangerous' and 'deviant' rather than plain vanilla 'lesbian'. :sweatingbullets:

#30 dirac

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Posted 31 August 2010 - 10:12 AM

The forthcoming 'Black Swan' will have girl on girl action. However, from the trailer it looks like this behaviour is presented more as male-fantasy style 'dangerous' and 'deviant' rather than plain vanilla 'lesbian'.



That's my take on it too, GWTW. It's basically a come-on for straight guys, like the lesbian flirtation between Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls, although Gina and Elizabeth never got to first base.


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