Arts & Entertainment

‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ retires from ballet over health problems

Sydney, Australia, June 20 (EFE).- Australian ballet director Li Cunxin, who captured his memories in the book “Mao’s Last Dancer” and inspired a film of the same name, will retire due to health problems, sources from the Queensland Ballet reported Tuesday.

After 11 years as artistic director of the Queensland Ballet in northeast Australia, Li, 62, will leave his position at the end of the year to address heart problems that have afflicted him since 2022.

His wife Mary Li, who currently suffers from cancer, will also retire at the end of the year from her position as teacher and head coach of the Queensland Ballet.

“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,” Queensland Ballet Board Chairman Brett Clark said in a statement about the naturalized director.

In addition to Li’s accomplishments at the Queensland Ballet, where he directed 70 seasons and grew the number of dancers and the budget for performances, his personal story has touched the millions who read his 2003 memoir “Mao’s Last Dancer.”

Six years later, his life story was made into a film by Australian director Bruce Beresford with the film “Mao’s Last Dancer,” which tells of the crossroads of a Chinese boy from a humble family from Qingdao with seven sons.

In the small rural Chinese town, his destiny as a dancer is marked after being chosen by the authorities of Mao Zedong’s regime to study for about seven years and away from his family at the Beijing Dance Academy.

Li’s career, as well as his destiny, took another huge turn after he traveled on a scholarship to Houston to study ballet, deciding to defect and marry ballerina Elizabeth Mackey along the way.

Li was temporarily detained at the Chinese embassy in Houston in 1981, forcing then-Vice President George Bush Sr. to intervene in favor of Li’s release.

Chinese authorities revoked the citizenship of Li, who after working as a dancer with the Houston Ballet for more than 15 years, fell in love with Australian dancer Mary McKendry in London. They married in 1987 and seven years later moved to Australia.

Li worked for several years as a dancer with the Australian Ballet until he became artistic director of the Queensland Ballet in 2012.

Its recognition in Australia was so great that in 2016 a group of scientists even named a new species of Queensland spider after him, the maratus lincunxin, which performs a mating ritual that includes energetic leg movements reminiscent of his act.

“As Mao’s Last Dancer, he earned global recognition for his story and his talent,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said in a statement about his retirement. “But as Artist Director of the Queensland Ballet, he took ‘Queensland’ to the world stage.” EFE


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