Australiandistributor Hopscotch has invested development money into the screen adaptationof author Li Cunxin's autobiographical book Mao's Last Dancer, and will be taking its first everexecutive producer credit on the film.

Cunxin wasplucked from a peasant childhood for training at Madam Mao's Beijing DanceAcademy. He made a dramatic defection to the US, assisted by the family ofcurrent US president George Bush, after taking part in an exchange program toHouston.

Cunxinsubsequently spent 16 years with the Houston Ballet before marrying anAustralian dancer and joining the Australian Ballet until his retirement in2000. He is now a Melbourne stockbroker.

Producer JaneScott, whose credits include Shine and Head On, and Jan Sardi, the writer of the screenplay, have just returnedto Australia from a fund raiser in Houston, Texas, held by the Barbara BushFoundation for Family Literacy and featuring five writers, including Cunxin.

The characterbased on Cunxin is likely to be depicted at three different ages, says Scott -as was the case in Shine, on which she and Sardi also collaborated.

Scott is alsoadapting Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy with English writer John Dryden, who wrote and directed acelebrated radio play of the novel for the BBC, recorded in India with 48actors. As with Mao's Last Dancer, a director is not yet attached.

Scott approachedHopscotch managing director Troy Lum earlier this year.