terça-feira, 15 de fevereiro de 2011

Mao's Last Dancer

I started reading this book without any big expectations as I thought it would be a long and tedious book where China and ballet dancing would be the main subjects. Oh, how I was wrong! 
 Li Cunxin (also the author of the book) tells his story as a young boy that leaves the tiny village of Qingdao to Pequim and from Pequim to conquer the world!!!
One of the main motivating factors in his life is a Chinese legend his father tells him when he was a boy about a "frog in a well". It's a story about a frog which was born in this deep well, and he knew nothing of the outside world. In fact he was told all the world was, it was this little environment that he lived in. Until one day he met this land frog, and he invited the land frog down to play. The land frog asked him, ‘What is down there?’ He said, ‘We have everything the world has to offer. We have the water current, we have the occasional stars and moon, and very limited sunlight but mainly darkness. We have everything you are enjoying.’ Of course the land frog said, ‘No, this is not the entire world.’ And so he told him what the entire world had to offer up on the land. Of course his view was much, much bigger than what the little well frog had experienced. So he went back to his father and was very angry. He says, ‘Father, tell me this friend of mine, the land frog, is lying.’ And the father sadly shook his head and said, ‘No, son, we do live in a very small, restricted and limited world. I didn’t tell you that because I didn’t want to frustrate you or make your life miserable. I have tried, like your forefathers have tried, to escape this dark and cruel deep well, but we never could.’ So, of course, the poor frog had hopped and jumped for the rest of his life trying to escape but the land was too far away. Li Cuxin then asks ‘Father, are we living in a deep well?’ And his father's answer was, ‘I can certainly say that we are not living in heaven.’ 
His family was soo poor that his whole life he slept in a Kang (bed) with his six brothers all squished up together, never had new clothes and one winter even had to eat tree bark to keep alive. His whole childhood was one of hunger and deprivation but despite it all his family bonds were very tight and his mother what kept the family going.
The beauty of it all is that in the end of the story he is "able to get out of the pond" as he launches on the world stage with the Houston Ballet and eventually becomes the principal dancer with the Australian Ballet getting international fame and recognition plus being able to help his family out of the terrid life of poverty they lived in. 
This book will touch and and all readers. Read it!

This time, instead of a book review I will post something which talks about the author, his lifestory, his success.

Li Cunxin (pronounced “Lee Schwin Sing”) is a remarkable man borne of a remarkable story. He has published a remarkable book about his extraordinary life. In his runaway best selling autobiography, Mao' s Last Dancer, Li recounts his determination, perseverance, vision, courage and hard work, and in particular, the sacred family values and integrity that he learned in poverty-stricken China, which has driven him to become one of the best dancers in the world. He tells of how the sixth of seven sons born to peasants grew up worshipping Mao Zedong before defecting to the United States.

Li was born into bitter poverty in rural Qingdao, China. Certain years the peasants in his village even ate tree barks to survive. Despite the harsh reality of life, his childhood was full of love. The love of his parents gave him hope and courage.

One day, a delegation from Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy arrived at Li's commune school to find suitable children to study ballet and serve in Chairman Mao's revolution. At first they passed Li without taking any notice, but just as they were walking out of his classroom, the class teacher hesitated, and suddenly tapped the last gentleman from Beijing on the shoulder and pointed. `What about that boy?'. And that boy was Li.

And so began Li's remarkable journey. He was 11 when he left home to begin a seven-year harsh training regime from 5.30 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week at the Beijing Dance Academy. Once he found his passion, he worked hard and gave his all. He would practise his turns at night by candlelight, and hopped, one-legged, up and down stairs with heavy sandbags tied to his ankles to build his leg strength at 5 am in the mornings when others were still asleep.

With incredible determination, resilience, perseverance and vision, Li graduated as one of the best dancers China has produced. He was discovered by Ben Stevenson, one of the world’s most respected teachers, choreographer and the Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet as part of the first US cultural delegation to communist China. And became one of the first two cultural exchange students allowed to go to America to study under Mao’s regime.

In a dramatic defection, Li was subsequently locked up in the Chinese Consulate in Houston. This created a standoff between the Chinese and the American governments. Even George Bush senior, then US Vice President intervened. FBI agents surrounded the consulate in Houston, and negotiations between Chinese and US diplomats had begun. His defection was the headline story in America. Twenty-one hours later, Li walked out of the Chinese Consulate as a free man.

He then danced with the Houston Ballet for sixteen years and became one of the best dancers in the world. He guest performed around the world with some of the best ballet companies and won two silver and a bronze medal at three International Ballet Competitions. While dancing in London, he fell in love with an Australian born ballerina with a major ballet company in England, Mary McKendry. They married in 1987, and in 1995 moved to Melbourne with their two children where Li became a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.

At age 35, Li started to plan his next career after dancing. He enrolled in accounting and financial courses. In 1997 he began his study at the Australian Securities Institute by correspondence with a view to becoming a stockbroker. For his final two years with the Australian Ballet, he rose at 5am to start ballet training, then racing to the stock exchange by 8am to work as a stockbroker until noon. By the time he joined the rest of the Australian Ballet dancers for rehearsals, he had already put in a full day's work (Li is now a senior manager at one of the biggest stockbroking firms in Australia).

Li’s Autobiography, "Mao's Last Dancer", was first published in 2003 and immediately hit the top of Australia’s best sellers list. It was number 1 in the non-fiction category and won the Book of the Year Award in Australia, the Christopher Award in America and it was short-list for the National Biography Award among other prestigious literary awards. It stayed on the top 10 Bestseller List for over one and a half years and it is now over 50 reprints, it has been published and sold in over 30 countries. The featured film: Mao's Last Dancer was first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was Runner Up for the People's Choice Award. It went on to win several other top international film festival awards. Mao's Last Dancer has become one of the top 10 box office hits in the Australian film history.

His book is an unique story of determination, passion, integrity and love. His journey filled with dreams shattered and revitalized. It is an empowering tale with so many lessons. This combined with the moving supporting ballet sequences and still photographs create an experience to be cherished.

As a motivational and inspirational speaker, Li’s unique real life story works so effectively with corporations and conferences’ various themes and objectives. It is a story that can touch people deep in their hearts. He is a highly sought-after international motivational speaker.

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