McLachlan, Chen dance with 'Mao'


SYDNEY -- Kyle McLachlan and Joan Chen will star in Bruce Beresford's upcoming feature "Mao's Last Dancer," set to begin filming in and around Beijing next month, producers said Tuesday.

Beresford is directing from Jan Sardi's adaptation of the best-selling memoir by Li Cunxin. Set during China's Cultural Revolution, it centers on Li, chosen at age 11 to leave his peasant family to train with the Beijing Dance Academy, then run by the wife of chairman Mao Zedong.

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. He settled in Melbourne, Australia, after marrying Australian dancer Mary McKendry and becoming a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.

McLachlan will play Li's attorney, while Chen will play his mother. Also signed for key roles are Bruce Greenwood, Jack Thompson, Aden Young, Amanda Schull and Shungbao Wang. Casting of the actors who will play Li at three stages of his life is yet to be finalized.

Sydney Dance Company founder and former artistic director Grahame Murphy is the film's choreographer, while several current and former principal dancers from the Australian Ballet, including Madeleine Eastoe, Camilla Vergotis and Steven Heathcote will dance in the film.

"Dancer" is being privately financed by Australian and international investors and has not been packaged as an official Australian-Chinese co-production. However, the film is being produced by Australian producer Jane Scott, with Chinese co-producer Geng Ling.

Celluloid Dreams is on board as the international sales agent for the film, with Australian domestic distribution shared by Hopscotch and Roadshow Films.