Mao's Last Dancer (2009) Poster


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  • Mao's Last Dancer is based on the 2003 autobiography of China-born ballet dancer, Li Cunxin [b.1961]. The book was adapted for the movie by Australian screenwriter Jan Sardi. Edit (Coming Soon)

  • Li Cunxin (played by Chi Cao) was the sixth son of a poor family in rural Qingdao, China. When he was 11 years old, he was chosen by a delegation from Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy to train as a ballet dancer. He was noticed by Ben Stevenson (played by Bruce Greenwood), Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet, and selected as one of the first cultural exchange students allowed to come to America to study. Although at first loyal to Chairman Mao's Communist Party, Li felt he had more opportunities as a ballet dancer in the United States, and so he defected in 1981, causing a huge standoff between the Chinese and American governments. Edit (Coming Soon)

  • Those who have read the book report that it is "fantastic", "readable", "wonderful", "interesting", "inspirational" (just a few of the adjectives used to describe it) albeit a bit long. In 2008, a shorter, children's version, titled Mao's Last Dancer: The Peasant Prince was released. Edit (Coming Soon)

  • It's pronounced "Lee Schwinsin". Li says (in the film) that it translates as "keep my innocent heart." Edit (Coming Soon)

  • Yes. Chi Cao trained at the Beijing Dance Academy and the Royal Ballet School. He joined the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1995 and was promoted to Principal in 2002. Edit (Coming Soon)

  • Ni hao is a common Mandarin greeting that translates most simply as Hello. Literally, "ni" means "you", and "hao" means "good", so the literal translation would be "you good", the Mandarin way of asking, "How are you?" Edit (Coming Soon)

  • Mikhail Baryshnikov [b. 1948) and Rudolf Nureyev [1938-1993] were Russian ballet dancers who defected to the West, Baryshnikov in 1974 and Nureyev in 1961. Also a Russian dancer, Vladimir Vasiliev [b. 1940], was not a defector. Edit (Coming Soon)

  • Five years pass since Li's defection. He's now a very popular dancer all over the United States. While in Washington D.C. to dance at the Kennedy Center, he gives an interview in which he describes how he hasn't been allowed back in China and doesn't know how his family is faring. Later, at a party, he is greeted by a representative from the embassy in Washington who informs Li that he has inquired about his parents, and they are fine. Back in Houston, Li is set to dance Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring with Mary McKendry (Camilla Vergotis), who has replaced Lori (Madeleine Eastoe) as Li's Principal. While Li is in his dressing room getting ready, his parents (Shuangbao Wang and Joan Chen) are ushered into the theater and seated close to the front. Li performs his role, causing his mother to cry. At the end of the ballet, as Li is taking his bows, he notices his parents in the audience. They make their way onto the stage for a tearful reunion with their number six son. Three years later, Li and Mary visit Li's home village and are greeted by his family and old Teacher Chan (Su Zhang). Chan comments, "How often I have dreamt of seeing you dance." In the final scene, Li and Mary dance for the villagers. Edit (Coming Soon)

  • At the end of the movie, it notes: "He and Mary McKendry married and now live in Australia with their three children." According to his official website,, Li enrolled in accounting and financial courses, looking forward to his career after dancing. He retired from the Australian Ballet in 1998 and is now a senior manager at a stockbroking firm in Australia and does motivational speaking on the side. Edit (Coming Soon)

  • In his book, Li writes that they started to fight and Liz wanted to dance, so she moved to Oklahoma and rang him one day, saying that she wanted a divorce. In the movie's epilogue, it notes: "Liz danced with the Oklahoma Ballet for some years. She is now a speech therapist, working mainly with children." Edit (Coming Soon)


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