My Favorite Dance Movie: Jessica Pearl Dames
From Billy Elliot to Black Swan, dance has provided an intense backdrop to some of the big screen’s most emotional stories. Dancers, in turn, are inspired by films which revolve on their chosen calling. In this series, the artists of Ballet Manila share their thoughts on the dance movies that made an impact on them, that they relate to and which they have grown to love.
Eleven-year-old Li Cunxin is plucked from a rural area in China to undergo ballet training. He does well and is later sent to the United States on an exchange program. While there, he falls in love with a fellow dancer and decides to defect and eventually becomes a principal dancer of a professional company.
It may sound like the stuff of fiction, but the story is very much real. Based on Li Cunxin’s biography of the same title, the film Mao’s Last Dancer is Ballet Manila company artist Jessica Pearl Dames’ favorite dance movie.
“It inspires me very much because of the passion and hard work of the main character, Li. The movie tells us that we should never give up on our dreams,” says Pearl. “We see how Li faced all of his challenges in life until he became a very successful professional dancer. He gave up and sacrificed everything for his love of dance.”
Two scenes from the movie stand out most for Pearl. The first one is when Li is asked to dance as Basilio (in Don Quixote) to replace an injured dancer. The catch? He only had three hours to learn it. “The directors were so nervous and doubtful of Li, but it turned out very well. Everyone was so amazed with him. He really showed that he could do it.”
Another favorite part of hers is when Li’s parents watch him perform for the first time after many years of separation. “It brought me to tears because even though he refused to back to China, he still got a chance to see his parents, apologize to them and hug them. That part really touched my heart,” shares Pearl.
“My favorite line in this movie is when the mom is talking to his son before he leaves to study ballet, saying, ‘Son, you must go. Don't you think your brothers would like an opportunity like this? Go on, son, go far, far away. Make a better life for yourself.’ Obviously the mom wanted his son to have a dream for himself and to have a better life which all mothers in the world want for their children.”
What also struck Pearl is a slight similarity with Li’s situation. “I can relate to the part where Li grew up without his parents beside him. My mother is very supportive of what I want to do in my life even though she is working abroad. She told me to dream big and just go wherever the world takes me and do whatever I want to do in my life.”
Like Li, Pearl believes she would do anything to reach her goals.
She encourages others to watch Mao’s Last Dancer because of its message that nothing is impossible if a person believes in himself.
“It tells us to never give up on our dreams no matter what happens and to never forget who was there for you since the beginning of your journey. The movie motivates me every time I watch it. I am sure everyone will feel the same way watching it.”