From rags to riches – explore the life of Brisbane dancing icon Li Cunxin
If you’re not familiar with the story of Li Cunxin, allow us to fill you in. This amazing man triumphed over adversity to emerge as a cultural icon of his generation, overcoming an upbringing in poverty-stricken China to become a worldwide ballet star. His complex and tumultuous history is as broad as it is fascinating, which really helps to contextualise just how incredible his achievements are. Opening on Friday December 1 at the Museum of Brisbane, Mao’s Last Dancer the exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin gives us an in-depth look at Li’s life and times as one of the most important dancers of his generation.
Mao’s Last Dancer the exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin takes us behind the red curtain of Li’s life and times – and what a journey he’s had. Born into bitter poverty during the height of Mao’s Communist China, Li grew up in a completely different world to the one we know in modern Australia. An extreme twist of fate at age 11 saw him selected to attend Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy – a golden opportunity to escape his humble life in rural China. In 1981, Li captured the world’s attention when he fell in love with an American dancer and announced his intentions to stay in the United States. His Chinese citizenship was revoked and he was unable to return to his home country, which led him to the Houston Ballet where he remained for 16 years. International fame and success were his reward, which continued when he joined the Australian Ballet as a principal artist in 1995. Li currently lives in Brisbane with his wife and children, where he is Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet.
Mao’s Last Dancer the exhibition features some truly hidden gems that paint a portrait of Li’s incredible life. You can glimpse never-before-seen interviews of Li’s family and colleagues from the ballet world, original objects and documents from Li’s personal archives, and footage of Li at the peak of his dancing career. Highlights include rare footage of the Beijing Dance Academy in the 1980s, Mao’s Red Book from the 1960s (which is the exact edition Li carried as a child), costumes worn by Li with Houston Ballet and The Australian Ballet, as well as ballet shoes worn by Li that were inked with Chinese characters for ‘fly’, which is what he used to write on his shoes at the Beijing Dance Academy as motivation. As well as the stunning archival items, the Museum of Brisbane will be hosting an array of accompanying talks, tours and events to enhance the exhibition experience.
Mao’s Last Dancer the exhibition: A portrait of Li Cunxin opens to the public from Friday December 1 – you can find further details in our Event Guide.