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MAO'S LAST DANCER
Beautiful Chinese-influenced drama score is one of 2009's strongest
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2009 Last Dancer Pty Ltd; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
Li Cunxin's popular autobiography Mao's Last Dancer has now been filmed by Australian director Bruce Beresford. Cunxin was a brilliant Chinese ballet dancer who fell in love with an American woman and went on to defect, in 1981. Beresford - who worked with the great Georges Delerue on several occasions - hired Australia's premiere film composer Christopher Gordon for the second time; and this is his first score for a long time (though he has recorded the oft-delayed Daybreakers in the years since his previous score, 2004's Salem's Lot).
The Far East has often provided good inspiration to "western" composers (I do realise of course that Gordon is actually more eastern than the Far East itself), most recently to John Williams in his sublime Memoirs of a Geisha. Gordon's music is an excellent mix of styles, opening in "Out of the Well" with a beautiful theme with a heavy Chinese influence. This style continues in the album's early tracks before the stunning piano theme "Pas de Deux", a real beauty, and the crowd-pleasing flag-waving "Turning Points".
Some source music follows (including the witty "Sirhe Nodrog's Book of Ballet Exercises for the Pianoforte") before one of the album's standouts, the superb "Becoming a Dancer" (one of those pieces you can almost tell is good just by looking at its title). There is a slightly disjointed feel about this middle section of the album, though - perhaps its only real flaw (hard to know what could have been done about it, in truth) - and that beautiful piece is followed up by another one of high quality, but from a very different place, "Free Dance", presumably a pastiche of Leonard Bernstein.
After the source-type music is over comes another of the score's strongest moments, "The Consulate", a much darker piece but still one full of much beauty. Gordon holds nothing back in the finale, with a stirring conclusion (as may be expected) to "Break Up and Reunion" and then the excellent "Village Dance and Finale" makes for a truly beautiful climax, bringing the album full circle. Mao's Last Dancer is an elegant score with a genuine touch of class, without question one of 2009's strongest film music albums. So far it has only been released in Australia, but buying an import is more than worth it.