‘Mao’s last dancer’ here to speak

Ballet dancer, defector and award-winning author Li Cunxin has brought his story of overcoming adversity to Dunedin.

Li, who told his story in autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer, later made into a movie, was in the city to speak at last night’s Otago Medical Research Foundation annual dinner.

Born in Maoist China in the 1960s, he was chosen for intensive ballet training as a youngster, before being rewarded with a year’s study in Houston.

There he fell in love, and defected in 1981.

He has since remarried and now lives in Australia, where he is in his sixth season as artistic director of the Queensland Ballet, trying to transform the organisation "into a world-class ballet company".

In return,  he was trying to make a positive contribution to society "through this beautiful art form which I am passionate about".

Li Cunxin, Queensland Ballet artistic director and writer of Mao’s Last Dancer,  was in Dunedin...
Li Cunxin, Queensland Ballet artistic director and writer of Mao’s Last Dancer, was in Dunedin yesterday to speak at a black-tie fundraising dinner for the Otago Medical Research Foundation at the Dunedin Town Hall. Photos: Gregor Richardson/Peter McIntosh
Li (57) told the Otago Daily Times yesterday morning he no longer danced.

He likened ballet dancers to top-level sports people such as basketballers and said "you really can’t bash your body for that long".

He retired when he was 38, but last year made a brief comeback for the ballet company’s performance of The Nutcracker.

"It was pretty challenging.

"Mentally, I thought I could do some of the dancing movements, but physically it was a whole different scenario.

"The old injuries I sustained were still there."

He spends his time nowadays leading, teaching, coaching and shaping the next generation of dancers.He said he was passionate about making a contribution, whether it was for medical research, the arts or charities.

The black-tie fundraising dinner for the Otago Medical Research Foundation at the Dunedin Town Hall.
The black-tie fundraising dinner for the Otago Medical Research Foundation at the Dunedin Town Hall.
"I’m very fond of New Zealand, too.

"It’s a wonderful neighbour to Australia."

Dunedin he found charming, and the people  were "very nice, and very down to earth".

For his speech last night he said he would share his personal journey and experiences.

His life had been about overcoming adversity and making his life "as rewarding and successful [a] journey as possible".

"We all aspire to do that with our lives.

"What I will be sharing is about looking at one’s life as what kind of difference you can make with the success you make.

"If you have certain attributes — which for me is about vision, dedication, passion, work ethic — you will be able to achieve success in your respective field."

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