Mao's last dancer - a special visit
Li Cunxin - an inspirational visit to Tring Park
The school was honored to receive a visit by former ballet dancer and current Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet. Mr Li gave an inspirational talk to the dance faculty (both students and staff) and other Tring Park staff about his early life in Mao's China. At the age of 11 officials came to his home in rural Shandong and selected him to study at the Beijing Academy of Dance at the height of the cultural revolution. Having never danced before he was plunged into a punishing regime, designed to make or break him as a future member of Mao's ballet. Although he hated his ballet studies he forced himself to work and eventually begin to enjoy them. "I started to think there was something init. The emotion and the physical freedom I got from dancing touched something deep in me."
By the time he was 18, Li had become one of Beijing's leading dance students and his diligence was rewarded with a year's study in Houston. He married a young American Dance student and was then incarcerated in the Chinese consulate in Houston, and threatened not only with deportation and punishment, but also with retribution on his family. After considerable national press coverage and intervention by President Reagan Li was eventually released and his ballet career flourished. After an important career as a guest principal in companies throughout the world as well as in Australia Li retired from dancing in his mid-30s and became a stockbroker which allowed him to send money back to his parents and siblings including setting them up in their own businesses.
In 2003 he concluded his autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer (which was adapted into a 2009 feature film of the same name by director Bruce Beresford) and he was approached by Queensland Ballet to become their artistic director which he readily accepted.
Li Cunxin took questions from students and staff and his talk left a lasting impression on everyone. It was a great privilege to be able to spend an hour in his company.