Mao's Last Dancer

Composed By: Christopher Gordon

Distributed by: Lakeshore Records

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Based on the autobiography by the same name, Mao’s Last Dancer tells the story of Li Cunxin, a poverty stricken boy who is selected to learn ballet at the Beijing Dance Academy during the height of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.  The movie spans the life of the young man who would eventually become an international sensation as a world class dancer.

            The film’s musical score was composed by Christopher Gordon, who has created musical scores for such diverse films as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Daybreakers and television miniseries like Moby Dick, On the Beach and Salem’s Lot.  Gordon has also completed some classical works as well, composing Lightfall for Horn and Orchestra, Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra, and Night Is What Remains

            Often times, music created for film is composed as background material with the purpose of enhancing visuals.  In Mao’s Last Dancer, the music is the centerpiece of the film.  After all, the story is about the life of a dancer and what could be more important to a dancer but the music he/she is to perform by.  The music found on the soundtrack of Mao’s Last Dancer is incredibly diverse with exotic music from the Orient, jazz, classical ballet and more.  The music spirals through a range of emotion from sad to playful to romantic to angry.

            I enjoyed some of the classical ballet music like Tchaikovsky‘s White Swan Lake and Black Swan Lake, but my favorite tracks feature the exotic sounds of bamboo flutes, the Chinese violin known as the erhu, the zhonghu (another bowed string
instrument), the four-stringed plucked instrument known as the pipa, the Chinese hammered dulcimer known as the yangqin, harps, a Chinese zither known as the guzheng, bells, hand drums and gongs.  The sounds emanating from these instruments offer up such beauty that if the entire album were made up of tracks like Out of the Well, Village Life and Brush Dance 'Zhang Ban Qiao'.  The only time I cringed while listening to this soundtrack was during the jazzy dance number, Pas De Deux.  The song was just to busy for me when compared to the other works of the soundtrack.

            The soundtrack of Mao’s Last Dancer is an excellent mix of classical and exotic sounds and would be well-received by fans of either musical style.  Fans of the ballet will definitely want to take a listen to this soundtrack.  Although I found myself gravitating toward the more exotic tunes, I can honestly say that the soundtrack as a whole is quite enjoyable.


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