MP3: Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

January 11, 2011 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: Lakeshore Records / Released: September 28, 2010

Tracks & Album Length: 23 tracks / (64:59)

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Special Notes: Available as a downloadable MP3 album.

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Composer: Christopher Gordon

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Review:

Lakeshore’s album seems to contain the bulk of Christopher Gordon’s score, which fluidly moves through original, period, folk, and classical material within a fairly large orchestral palette.

The story of Li Cunxin – a Chinese dancer who created an international incident when he wanted to stay in the U.S. after his exchange ended – is compelling, and certainly in the film’s first half Gordon had plenty of material to create a musical setup that evoked Cunxin’s village roots, his confusion in a dance academy after being taken from his family, and becoming aware of the government’s powerful hold on citizens from every level of society in Communist China.

Gordon’s original score is generally based around two main themes: the first is heroic and vibrant, played on traditional Asian string and percussion instruments, as well as sweeping orchestral movements; the second is quiet, contemplative, and predominantly played on piano, underscoring Cuxin’s sense of yearning for his family as boy, his love for American dancer Elizabeth Mackey, and moments where he weighs and wrestles with the decision to remain in the U.S., revoking his Chinese citizenship.

“Dance of Longing” is a variation of Cuxin’s yearning theme, loving arranged for solo violin, yet given a passionate undercurrent with rich low strings. Gordon’s score is a perfect balance between European Romanticism and evocations of Asia without veering into clichéd Chinoiseries. Perhaps his approach works because interwoven with the classical excerpts – Minkus’ Pas De Deux from Don Quixote, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Mozart’s Sonata in D K576 – the themes and extracts form a musical collage of Cunxin’s life, which is necessary because the film flips between Cunxin in China and Houston (where most of the story takes place).

As with his prior work (Daybreakers), Gordon’s a master at balancing intimate moods and beautiful grand moments, but Mao’s Last Dancer isn’t a heavy score. The thematic material – classical or original – is compelling because of a reliance on melody and harmony. Larger cues such as the concluding “Village Dance and Finale” do reflect the predictable melodrama that director Bruce Beresford didn’t seem to care enough to avoid, but one still gleans a sense of Cunxin’s conflicts with career, love, culture and nation.

The soundtrack is perfectly engineered, with a full resonance from all levels of Gordon’s substantial orchestra. The music is available on CD from Sony in Australia, and a resonant digital album from Lakershore in the U.S.

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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Related links:

DVD / Film:  Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

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External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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Buy from:

Amazon.com – Mao’s Last Dancer

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Category: Soundtrack Reviews

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