Queensland’s Australian of the Year 2014, author of the internationally acclaimed Mao’s Last Dancer and Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet, Li Cunxin (pronounced ‘schwin sing’) will share a message of motivation and aspiration when he visits Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus on Wednesday, May 14.
Li is the guest of the Gold Coast Association of Postgraduates (GCAP) and will speak in the G40 Auditorium from 7-8.30pm. A free event for Griffith’s Gold Coast students and staff, for ticket enquiries contact the Student Guild.
The theme of Li’s address – how hard work, determination, courage and persistence can help you attain your goals – is reflected in the events of his remarkable life. And while everyone’s experience is individual, Li believes his message is universal and particularly instructive for university students.
“This is a precious age group, one in which young people must keep clear targets in mind and remain motivated,” he says. “It is so easy to become sidetracked and so you need tenacity to never lose sight of your goals.
“The power and confidence you can take from this approach are very real and my experience can be used as a model. I’m not speaking empty words.”
Born into poverty in Qingdao, China, in 1961 – ironically given future events, he was born on Australia Day, January 26 – Li’s life changed forever when a delegation from Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy visited his school seeking potential ballet pupils.
Just 11 when he left home to begin seven years of arduous training, Li’s natural ability was matched by a steely dedication and, graduating in 1979, he was one of the first two cultural exchange students under Mao Zedong’s Communist regime permitted to travel to America to study.
Joining the Houston Ballet, Li’s defection in 1981 may have cost him his Chinese citizenship, but eventually he rose to the top of the international ballet ranks. On tour in London, he fell in love with Australian-born dancer Mary McKendry. They married in 1987 and moved to Melbourne in 1995, where Li became principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.
At 35 and with his dancing days nearing their conclusion, Li pursued a career in stockbroking and became a successful investment adviser and senior manager at one of Australia’s biggest stockbroking firms.
Then in 2003 he published his autobiography, Mao’s Last Dancer, a runaway best-seller adapted as a feature film in 2009.
Now dance is again the cornerstone of Li’s life via the Queensland Ballet. As the company’s fifth Artistic Director and first curatorial Artistic Director, he says his goals remain clear and challenging.
“I want to present the best possible, and best loved, contemporary and classical ballets at a world standard; enhance the ballet-theatre experience and engagement between the company and the audience; especially the people of Queensland; and I hope to make this company a dance powerhouse of the Asia-Pacific region.”
The President of the Gold Coast Association of Postgraduates, Mr Geoff Schoenberg, says a speaker such as Li Cunxin will expose the student body to someone who has overcome incredible obstacles to live a remarkable life.
“Hopefully, Li Cunxin’s story will inspire and motivate students,” says Mr Schoenberg, adding: “This event is also a great way for the GCAP to engage with the rest of the University community and we plan to continue the ‘GCAP Presents’ series next semester.”
WHAT: Gold Coast Association of Postgraduates presents Li Cunxin, Queensland Australian of the Year 2014, author of Mao’s Last Dancer, Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet
WHERE: G40 Auditorium, Gold Coast campus
WHEN: 7-8.30pm on Wednesday, May 14
TICKETS: Free and available at the Student Guild