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‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ Glides Through Pandemic

Li Cunxin has been politically reluctant through his asylum in the United States and his current pandemic since he was pulled out of the Chinese countryside and enrolled in Madame Mao’s elite ballet school.

The 59-year-old artistic director of Queensland Ballet, one of Australia’s leading dance companies, prefers to focus on his art.

But his rise from a humble beginning was interrupted by political turmoil, from the horrors of Mao Tse-Tong’s Great Leap Forward to his asylum and the anti-Chinese backlash of today’s coronavirus pandemic.

Lee was born in 1961 as Mao’s flawed development program caused a severe famine across China.

He told AFP that every day was a “fight to survive” for Lee’s poverty-stricken farmers.





Since Li Cunxin was pulled out of the Chinese countryside and enrolled in Madame Mao’s elite ballet school, his life has been politically reluctant Pas de deux through his asylum in the United States and the current pandemic.
AFP / Patrick Hamilton

The situation began to change when the recruiter at Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy visited the school at the age of 11.

“The teacher in my class was standing by the door and she did something very unusual. She stopped the last gentleman from Beijing and left the room and said,” How about that? ” It was. And she pointed to me. “

Lee passed a tough audition, became one of 44 children selected from millions, and began seven years of “absolutely brutal” ballet training.

“We started from 5:30 in the morning to 9 in the evening. We trained six days a week,” he said.

A rigorous program instilled lifelong discipline and patience, but at first young Lee was bored and hated ballet.



The rise from the humble beginnings of the Queensland ballet Li Cunxin was interrupted by political turmoil, from the horrors of Mao Tse-Tong's Great Leap Forward to asylum and the anti-Chinese backlash of today's coronavirus pandemic.


The rise from the humble beginnings of the Queensland ballet Li Cunxin was interrupted by political turmoil, from the horrors of Mao Tse-Tong’s Great Leap Forward to asylum and the anti-Chinese backlash of today’s coronavirus pandemic.
AFP / Patrick Hamilton

Eventually another teacher intervened and helped Lee become, he says. “It is widely considered the best dancer China has ever produced.”

In 1979, during the Cold War, he was invited to the Houston Ballet, where he fell in love and married an American dancer. This led to his “darkest moment”.

Upon arriving at the city’s Chinese Consulate to share what he thought was good news, Lee was immediately detained for opposition to the Communist Party.

“I was cross-examined for over 21 hours, and I really felt my life was at stake,” he said.

After that, serious intervention took place. US President George Bush and his wife Barbara, who were officers of the Houston Ballet, successfully lobbyed for his release.



Li Cunxin, artistic director of the Queensland Ballet, is said to have revitalized the company.


Li Cunxin, artistic director of the Queensland Ballet, is said to have revitalized the company.
AFP / Patrick Hamilton

Lee went into exile and cut off all ties with China. He became the top-ranked principal of the Houston Ballet and then moved to Melbourne with his second wife, the Australian Ballet.

Lee has been banned from returning home for many years and today enthusiastically avoids politics and diverts questions about Beijing’s current foreign citizens’ targets.

The relationship between Canberra and Beijing has reached new lows after Australia has sought to investigate the cause of the pandemic, and the relationship between his current and former homes is cold.

According to Jieh-YungLo, director of the Asian Australian Leadership Center, it is a “very complicated time” for Chinese Australians, many of whom feel “captured in the middle” of both countries.

According to Law, Australians’ views on China have plummeted, racism against Chinese Australians has skyrocketed, and role models like Lee, who can close the gap, are more important than ever. ..

“The real hope to counter this is to increase the number of Chinese-Australians who are in a leadership position across Australia’s public and private sectors,” Law said.

As artistic director of Queensland Ballet since 2012-after a long mission as a stock broker after retiring from performance-Li is believed to have rejuvenated the company.

It has grown from 24 members with an annual budget of A $ 5 million (US $ 4 million) to 60 dancers with a budget of A $ 24 million (US $ 17 million).

For many in the arts of the world, these hard-earned benefits are at risk of a coronavirus pandemic.

When the first case of Covid-19 emerged, Li took a “great risk” by deciding to move the entire Queensland ballet season to 2021.

This decision provided the coveted certainty, but also created a hole in the bottom line.

Australia has significantly reduced the outbreak of the virus, but Li says he is more than 50% uncertain that the company will perform well next year.

Also, while more “severe decisions”, including headcount reductions, cannot be ruled out, he hopes to help him overcome the crisis and lead the industry, especially through his position on the government’s art advisory board.

“We want to engage with the community because we believe that art plays a very important role in helping people get out of this pandemic … art is inspirational and of people’s It raises the spirit and gives people hope, “he said.

“But there is no doubt. At least for the next two years, the road I’m looking at will be very, very difficult.”

After a lifetime of success born of the struggle, Li is still bright about the future.

“I’m an optimist. I tend to see challenges, difficulties, or obstacles as opportunities for disguise.”



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