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Li Cunxin

Artistic Director, Queensland Ballet

At the age of 11, Li Cunxin was selected by Madame Mao's cultural advisors to attend the Beijing Dance Academy. What followed was a long and diverse career as an internationally acclaimed dancer.

In 2003, Li published his international best-selling autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer, which was adapted as a feature film in 2009. Li was appointed Queensland Ballet’s Artistic Director in July 2012.

Li Cunxin
Artistic Director, Queensland Ballet
2014 Queensland Australian of the Year

I’ve been the artistic director of Queensland Ballet for five years now. I was born in China into a poor peasant life and then at age 11, I received a rare opportunity to study ballet. The seven years hard training taught me resilience, determination and the value of hard work.

In London, I met the love of my life, Mary McKendry, who happened to be a Queenslander and then she’s my connection to come to Queensland to direct the Queensland Ballet which I’m very proud of. I think there are a few key skillsets, particularly going forward into the unknown world. You have to have the courage to be able to allow your imagination to travel, to learn from all aspects of life.

We are all that much richer in our existence, in our happiness if we understand each other and if we learn from each other.

Once you learn something, you should be flexible enough to apply it to other fields and I think that creative thinking then will eventually come to some concrete ideas. But you still have to have the courage to be able to implement them.

For me now, as a leader of Queensland Ballet, no matter what vision I have, what incredible passion I possess, if I can’t communicate then nothing will happen. I’ll be a general with no army. So I think it’s vitally important for a leader to be able to communicate things effectively and with passion.

If you trust your instincts, also help you to make the right decision provided your heart is in the right place.

The one wish I would like to have for young generation is that they are willing to learn about new things. That will set you up really well to be able to face the changes coming your way.

For young generation, they have so much more at their disposal, so there is no reason why they shouldn’t be more successful than the generation before them.

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