Beresford to helm 'Dancer' adaptation


SYDNEY -- Director Bruce Beresford will direct the feature film adaptation of Chinese-Australian Li Cunxin's best-selling memoir, "Mao's Last Dancer," producer Jane Scott said Monday.

Scott will collaborate with Jan Sardi on the Australian film, rekindling their producer-writer collaboration on the 1996 Australian feature "Shine," for which Sardi received an Academy Award nomination.

Li also is working closely with the producers as a consultant on the film about his childhood. At age 11, during the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-76), Li was chosen to leave his peasant family in the Northeast Chinese port of Qingdao to train with the Beijing Dance Academy, then run by the wife of the founder of Communist China, Mao Zedong.

Scott said a worldwide search is under way to cast the three actors who will play Li Cuxin in the three stages of his life depicted in the screenplay, with the film scheduled to begin production in February. Shooting will take place in China, Australia and the U.S.

Li defected to the U.S. after becoming one of two cultural exchange students to the West, and spent 16 years with the Houston Ballet and subsequently settled in Melbourne, Australia, after marrying Australian dancer Mary McKendry and becoming a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.

"Mao's Last Dancer" was an Australian best-seller and won the Book of the Year award as well several other major literary prizes.

The book, now in its 32nd reprinting, has been translated into several languages and sold in more than 20 countries worldwide, including, recently, China.

Unusually for an Australian film, "Dancer" is expected to be totally privately financed by Australian and international investors. Local and international sales agents and distributors will be announced shortly, producers said.