Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mao's Last Dancer

Li Cunxin, (bestselling autobiography, 'Mao's Last Dancer'), was born in abject poverty in Mao's communist China. At the age of 11 he was chosen to study at the Beijing Dance Academy, following a gruelling training regime for the next seven years. He graduated as one of China's leading dancers and was one of the first two cultural exchange students allowed to study in the USA.

Li Cunxin - source:

Li began dancing with the Houston Ballet in 1979. He defected from the east and was locked up in the Chinese Consulate in Houston, with an ongoing political fight between Beijing and Washington. He was allowed to stay, never to return to his homeland. Li was promoted to principal dancer with Houston Ballet in 1982 and in all stayed on to dance with the company for 16 years, performing around the world. He met his future wife, Australian-born ballerina Mary McKendry in London. In 1995 they moved to Melbourne Australia where he danced his last three and a half years as principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.

Li Cunxin and Mary McKendry, pas de deux from 'Esmeralda'
Australian Ballet Gala 1990

Thinking of his future after ballet, Li studied accounting and is now a stockbroker with a leading stockbroking firm in Melbourne. He would practise for a few hours in the morning, go to university during the day and had a day's work done before rehearsals with the Australian Ballet in the evening.

Now a father of three, Li was recently named the 2009 Shepherd Centre Australian Father of the Year by the Australian Father's Day Council at a Father's Day luncheon; 'In recognition of Li's remarkable record as an inspirational father and his ongoing commitment to his children and family'.

His autobiography is now a film, produced by Jane Scott and directed by Australian Bruce Beresford. It premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival and opened in Melbourne last week. Li says the film is very close to his life story and watching it unfold on the big screen was a very emotional eperience, almost like living his life over again.

I bought the book yesterday and it's in the queue!


Maggie's garden said...

This sounds like a great read....I'll have to hit up the bookshop. Do you know if the movie has been released in the US?

Lyn said...

Just breathtaking..the first photo is supernatural! Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Alaine: So glad to learn of this book. I love autobiographies. That first photo is simply amazing - what an example of the human form!

Alaine said...

Hello Maggie, I hope you're feeling better. I have no idea when it will show in America; there's no mention of it on his site.

Alaine said...

Lyn & Bonnie, I KNOW!! I wish I'd seen him dance. I'll have to wait for the film to come to our country theatre.

Tracy said...

I've always loved the world of the ballet... Li's story is an amazing one. I would love to read this book. Thanks for featuring it here today, Alaine. :o) Happy Day ((HUGS))

Derrick said...

Hi Alaine,

Don't you just hate some people?!! Eleven seems rather late for a ballet dancer to start training but it doesn't seem to have hindered this gentleman. A Chinese Billy Elliot!

Delwyn said...

Hi Alaine

I read the book when it came out and found it fascinating, cruel, educational, and courageous... so am keen to see the movie although it hasn't received very high reviews...they say it is simple, modest and a rags to riches plot...still it will be good to see the dancing on the big screen...evidently Chi Cao is very good.

Happy days

Alaine said...

Hi Delwyn, I should imagine the book will be something like Lang Lang's story.

I didn't mention the cast as one can go on forever but I'll be very happy to see Chi Cao dance.

Yes, it had mixed crits in Canada; I haven't kept up with the reviews in Australia.

I hope Li Cunxin doesn't get downhearted.

Vagabonde said...

Thanks for your comments on my blog. You asked about my daughters’ career paths: Celine the oldest moved to Long Beach, CA and is the VP of a small, dynamic and growing company – she loves it there and is still single. Jessica married a university mate and they are both MDs and finishing their residencies at Ohio State University Medical Hospital, him in anesthesiology and her in neurology (epilepsy.) I really like your post about Lin Cunxin. I had not heard about him but I shall look for the book and hopefully the film will come here.

Alaine said...

Hello Vagabonde, you must be very proud of your daughters' achievements. I know all about epilepsy as my brother sustained a head injury at 9 and became epileptic. It was a huge strain on the family and our teenage years weren't happy. However, he is now 58 and well. Thanks for your visit.