Life On The Job


Li  Cunxin, AO  (26th January 1961 - ) Ballet Dancer, Artistic Director Queensland Ballet

 

Portrait
(Source: Queensland Ballet)

 

Introduction Archibald Prize

Li Cunxin (b. 1961) is the artistic director of the Queensland Ballet. Born into an impoverished family in rural Qingdao, China, Li was selected for the Beijing Dance Academy at the age of eleven. After seven years’ training, he received permission to train with the Houston Ballet in the United States of America. He defected just days before his scheduled return to China in 1981.

For sixteen years, he performed with the Houston Ballet, becoming a principal dancer and appearing with companies across the world. Having danced with and then marrying the Australian Mary McKendry, in 1995 he became principal artist with the Australian Ballet in Melbourne. During his four years with the company he maintained a punishing regimen, training and working as a stockbroker in between rehearsals and performances.

Published in 2003, Li’s autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer was adapted into a feature film in 2009. In 2012, working as a broker, he accepted an offer from the Queensland Ballet to become its fifth artistic director. Li was Australian Father of the Year in 2009 and Queensland’s Australian of the Year in 2014, and has two honorary doctorates. The Museum of Brisbane mounted the touring exhibition Mao’s Last Dancer The Exhibition: A portrait of Li Cunxin in 2017-2018. (Source: National Portrait Gallery]

 

Interview [2012]

"From a rural village in communist China, to ballet fame and a bestselling autobiography, it’s been an extraordinary journey for Li Cunxin. Caitlin Ganter spoke to the newest Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet.

Born in a rural village at the height of China's Cultural Revolution, Li Cunxin was the sixth of seven sons. Bitterly poor, his family was mainly concerned with putting food on the table, yet when Li left the village at just 11 years old - it was the start of an incredible journey.

Young Li CunxinQuote
A young Li Cunxin - image from Immigration Museum
(Source: Weekend Notes)

 

The ACU honorary doctorate recipient has achieved phenomenal success as a ballet dancer, author, and stockbroker, and has now been appointed the new Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet.

Queensland Ballet


Opportunities & Training: 

“I have been following Queensland Ballet with great interest and feel privileged to help lead the Company into the next era,” he said. “This is a chance to be able to develop, nurture and help a new generation of ballet dancers; I am excited to be able to give something back to the art form I am passionate about, the art form I love, and to really be able to make a difference to the dancers and other creative staff.”

After a six-month global search, Li was awarded the job this year, beating 40 other applicants for the prestigious position. In his new role, Li has overall responsibility for training dancers and mounting productions.

“I will be the fifth Artistic Director in the Company's 52-year history and the first curatorial Artistic Director. My goal is to put my all my energy and reputation into Queensland Ballet and make it one of the highest standard ballet companies in the world - and of course, to do beautiful, international-standard ballets.

“To me ballet is more than a performance, more than entertainment. I think a great ballet brings magic to the audience, and this is one of the reasons I love it.”

Li Cunxin's website
Li Cunxin's website

For Li, dance was a lifesaver. When he was 11 years old, Madame Mao's cultural delegates came in search of young peasants to study ballet at an academy in Beijing. Li was selected.

“As a child I didn’t know what ballet was... I was born into a hopeless, poor life. Even from a really young age I just dreamed of an opportunity that would allow me to get out.

“I didn’t love ballet at first, I didn’t even like it, but I realised this was my only chance to do something different from my forefathers.”

Taken from his family, Li was thrown into a completely unfamiliar world. Showing a natural gift, coupled with extreme dedication and passion, he withstood brutal discipline and strict training to transform into China’s most promising dancer.

“None of it was easy,” he said. “I had to rely on determination, courage and a lot of hard work. I have always been determined and stubborn, even as a child it was very hard to change my mind. There were times things were so hard I wanted to throw in the towel, but I never let myself. I always worked for a positive result – jump a little higher, study a little harder, if I set a target I intended to reach it.”

In 1979, he defected to the west to dance with the
Houston Ballet, where he performed some of the greatest roles in the company's repertoire and achieved the top rank of Principal in 1982.

 

Houston Ballet

He moved to Melbourne in 1995 to join the Australian Ballet as a Principal Artist.

 

The Australian Ballet

Li retired from ballet in 1999 to pursue a career in the financial sector. Prior to joining Queensland Ballet, Li was working in Melbourne as a senior manager at Bell Potter, one of the largest stockbroking firms in Australia. He is also on the board of The Australian Ballet and the Bionics Institute.

“Leaving ballet wasn't much of a choice, rather a responsibility. I was financially responsible for my family in Australia, and my parents and brothers in China. Ballet is in my bones, in my blood - I like to do nothing more than see a ballet performance or teach students, anything that is related to the art.”

In 2003 Li published his international best-selling autobiography Mao's Last Dancer. The book has received numerous awards and was adapted as a feature film in 2009.

Mao's Last Dancer

There is no doubt Li has achieved phenomenal success, yet among his many achievements, Li counts his family as the greatest.

“I think my biggest accomplishment is my family… despite my busy career I have a happy family life,” he said. “I was considered one of the top dancers in the world and wrote a best-selling book, but it is my personal life that makes me proudest. I feel that I have been a loving father to my children, a good husband, a good brother, and a good son.”"

(Source: ACU Alum
: Raising the Barre)
 

Mao's Last Dancer - Official Trailer: YouTube



Mao's Last Dancer was adapted into a 2009 feature film of the same name by director Bruce Beresford and writer Jan Sardi, starring Chi Cao, Bruce Greenwood and Kyle MacLachlan.

At the São Paulo International Film Festival 2009 the film won Best Foreign Feature Film Audience Award (tied with Broken Embraces).
(Source: Wikipedia)

Awards

Order of Australia 2019

Qld State Recipient Australian of the Year 2014

Australian Father of the Year 2009

Australian Book of the Year 2003 for Mao's Last Dancer

 

Links:

Li Cunxin's website

Li Cunxin's website
Queensland Ballet - Artistic Director

Queensland Ballet
Australian Story - Leap of Faith

Australian Story - Leap of Faith

Australian Story Leap of Faith
Talking Heads

Talking Heads
Li Cunxin and Mary McKendry with Richard Fidler (2009) Listen

Conversations with Richard Fidler
Audio tape of conversations with Li Cunxin
Li Cunxin: How "Mao's Last Dancer' brought Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet to Brisbane
July 2014


Romeo and Juliet
Qld State Recipient Australian of the Year 2014

Australian of the Year Award


Li Cunxin - dancing through the darkness - May 2020 [59.17min]

Listen

Australian Story - Sophie's Choice
12 April 2021
Video

Australian Story

YouTube: Coffee Conversations Li Cunxin AO
3 March 2021
https://youtu.be/TsSFyNDO7kU

 

 

YouTube: The true story of Mao's Last Dancer: Li Cunxin's extraordinary life | 60 Minutes Australia
30 October 2020 [13.14m]
https://youtu.be/VzJ0n_8snH0

 

YouTube: 60 Years of Memories: Li Cunxin
5 March 2021
https://youtu.be/oOP_LwOUyLI


 

Activities

Wordle and Li Cunxin

PrimaryPrimary & MiddleMiddle

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

1. Li Cunxin has led an extraordinary life! Read all about Li Cunxin from the websites and videos above.

2. Using Wordle, create a 20+ word cloud to describe what you have learnt about this famous Australian.

Wordle

 

 

Balance & 6 Thinking Hats!

MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

 

1. In ballet balance is vital. In this activity you are going to investigate how our bodies balance themselves and create a poster about this marvellous attribute.

In pairs, read the following article from The Conversation 16 November 2016 Read

The Conversation

 

2. Re-read this article and note down all the facts and figures.

3. Analyse the following article and particularly its illustrations.

Balance

 

4. Record your explanation of the "vestibulo-ocular reflex" to your partner using a record app on your phone. Get your partner to explain the reflex back to you while still recording.

5. Listen to both recordings. Do you need to add or delete parts of the explanation?

6. Form into groups of 6 students. You are now, together, going to create a poster about the Body's Balance System but you are going to look at this poster from different points of view: using de Bono's 6 Thinking Hats. This is an excellent way to work out the problem of what should go on your poster.

Select one hat to be your perspective or role by pulling out your colour. Contribute to the poster by thinking with "your hat"!

Attention "Black Hat" you are not to criticize your fellow students but to point out different and maybe better ways to approach the poster.  

White Hat WHITE HAT: facts and information

ASK:

- What do you know to be true about the body and balance?

- What are the facts?

- How do they effect dancers, particularly ballet dancers?

Extra resource [more difficult information]: Ballet dancers’ brains adapt to stop them going dizzy (theconversation.com)
Green hat GREEN HAT: creativity

ASK:

- Is there a new way we could do things?

- What is possible for us to achieve today?

- What poster program is the best way to convey our information?

And if not us, who could assist us in achieving what is wanted or needed?

Extra resource: Explainer: why does our balance get worse as we grow older? (theconversation.com)
Blue Hat BLUE HAT: process control

ASK:

- What is Balance all about?

- What has this discussion made you consider?

- What questions does our learning about balance raise?

Yellow hat YELLOW HAT: represents the positives

ASK:

- Body balance is important because...

- What positive steps can we take about Body Balance?

Extra resource: Explainer: why does our balance get worse as we grow older? (theconversation.com)
Black hat BLACK HAT: represents the negatives

ASK:

- What causes balance disorders? List them!

- Which groups of people does a lack of balance adversely affect? How?

- How are you going to list the disorders without overwhelming the other hats?


Extra resources: Explainer: why does our balance get worse as we grow older? (theconversation.com)
Balance Problems and Disorders | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)
Red hat RED HAT: feelings and emotions

ASK:

- How do you feel about body balance?

- What are your feelings towards its decline?

Imagine: your grandparent has fallen and they need to go into care.

 7. Create your poster and present it to the class showing your reasons for the information, images and ideas.

 

 

 

Material sourced from ACU Alum

Raising the barre

NSW Art Gallery

 

 

 

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