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: bruceberesford.org
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!