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Canberra Today 14°/17° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

‘Last Dancer’ retires from ballet role

Li Cunxin… retiring as artistic director of the Queensland Ballet. Photo: Jono Searle/AAP

Li Cunxin, the acclaimed ballet dancer and author of ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’, is retiring as artistic director of Queensland Ballet following ill health, reports JOHN CROUCH.

THE man behind the story of “Mao’s Last Dancer” and the artistic director of the Queensland Ballet is to retire for health reasons.

The company announced Li Cunxin was stepping down at the end of the 2023 season after he recently experienced “serious health complications”.

His wife Mary will also step down as the company’s ballet mistress and principal repetiteur after having her own health battles.

The 62-year-old said there was still much he wanted to achieve with the team, but he needed to take some space to recover and spend time with family.

“This journey has enriched my life beyond measure and offered me so much fulfilment and joy,” Li said in a statement.

“From the moments of success to the periods of challenge and uncertainty that have dared me to dream fearlessly, it has been an incredible opportunity to each day make a difference to the arts in Queensland and the nation, and I’ll miss it all terribly.”

Born into extreme poverty in rural China, Li became one of the world’s best ballet dancers.

Following his defection to the west almost 40 years ago, Li performed throughout the world before settling in Australia with Mary and their children in 1995.  

He spent four years as principal artist with the Australian Ballet and was appointed artistic director of the Queensland Ballet in 2012. 

His award-winning 2003 autobiography, “Mao’s Last Dancer”, was an international bestseller that became a blockbuster film directed by Bruce Beresford in 2009.

Queensland Ballet chair Brett Clark thanked Li for his “selfless, generous and visionary service” and the company planned to celebrate his contribution in the coming months.

“When I think about what Li Cunxin has achieved in life, for his family in China, for his family around the world, for ballet, for Queensland, for Queensland Ballet, it is nothing short of sensational,” Clark said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk paid tribute to Li, saying he took Queensland to the world stage. 

“Along with Mary, an accomplished and acclaimed ballerina, Li set an example for others to follow and blazed a trail from Brisbane to the world,” she said.


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