How to pronounce Li Cunxin: Lee Schwin Sing
Li Cunxin was born into an extremely poor peasant
family in Qingdoa, a remote commune village in Northern China in 1961.
The sixth son in a family of seven sons, he lived in a small house with twenty of his relatives. The family struggled to stay alive, subsisting at near starvation levels on a daily basis.
In 1972 Madame Mao, wife o f Chairman Mao, decided to revive the Peking Dance Academy and sent men into the countryside to find suitable children to attend. At age eleven, Li, with no former experience, was chosen to become a dancer on the basis of his physique.
After seven years of hard, sometimes cruel training at the Beijing Dance Academy, he received one of two artistic scholarships to study in America. The first cultural delegation to China introduced Li to the artistic director of the Houston Ballet Academy, who would become his mentor for the next sixteen years.
Li fell in love and married an American girl in 1981 which resulted in him being held against his will for twenty-one hours by the Chinese Consulate in Houston. It became a huge international incident during which the FBI surrounded the Consulate and sealed the airport. The American government, led by George Bush, Sr., managed to negotiate with the Chinese government to eventually secure his release. Li went on to win two prestigious silver medals at two separate International Ballet competitions for America. In addition, he was the principal dancer with the Houston Ballet and the Australian Ballet for over 20 years and was considered to be one of the best dancers in the world.
Li's book, Mao's Last Dancer, took two and half years to write and has become a huge bestseller in Australia (reaching number one in non-fiction) and is currently on its fourteenth print-run since September, 2003. After making a career transition, Li is a senior manager at a large stockbroking firm. He and Mary, his life partner, have three children and reside in Australia.
A former principal dancer at both the Houston Ballet and the English National Ballet, Mary sacrificed her career at the height of her profession to teach their first child Sophie to speak. Diagnosed with profound deafness at 18 months, Sophie is now a bright young girl with cochlear implants. Recently, Sophie, won a scholarship to study at one of the most prestigious schools in America. Mary is now a principal teacher and coach at the Australian Ballet.
Li Cunxin's website
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In London for the publication of his autobiography, Li Cunxin talks to ballet.co.uk about the book and about his life as a dancer.
This interview was conducted by Jane Simpson on 18th November 2003 and first
published at ballet.co.uk. It is reproduced with the permission of Jane Simpson and ballet.co.uk.
From the real-life Nureyev to the fictional Billy Elliott, these days we're all familiar with the legend of the boy who falls in love with ballet and fights his way through to become a dancer. Well, Li Cunxin's story isn't at all like that: in fact it's quite the opposite. This is the tale of a boy sitting quietly in his primary school in a remote area of China, knowing almost nothing and caring less about ballet, when a couple of visitors walk in, pick out one of the girls and say 'You: you're going to be a dancer'. And just as they're leaving, the teacher points at Li and says 'Why don't you try him as well?' - and Li begins a journey which takes him via years of hard work, defection to the West, and stardom in America to the present day, when he lives in Melbourne, an Australian citizen and a successful stockbroker, with an Australian wife and three children and ...
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