An unexpected parcel arrived from New Zealand for me during my first week back at White Lodge. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was a personally autographed copy of Li Cunxin’s book “Mao’s Last Dancer”
In July this year, Li was named as Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet, but that is a long way from where he was born in a remote region of Communist China in 1961. At the age of eleven he was plucked from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao’s cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, during a cultural exchange to Texas, he fell in love with an aspiring American dancer. Two years later, he managed to defect and went on to perform as a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet.
In 1995 He moved to Melbourne, joining the Australian Ballet as a Principal Artist. Since his retirement from dancing in 1998 he has worked as a senior manager for a large stock broking firm and has become a popular motivational speaker.
That is how his fascinating book ended up in my hands. Li was chatting with my godmother following his guest appearance at a conference for the company where she works in New Zealand. She mentioned that she had recently visited me at White Lodge and had also watched our School’s end of year performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
Here you can watch a Trailer of the film based on Li’s life, also titled Mao’s Last Dancer