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Non Fiction Narrative
Mao's Last Dancer
Call Number: 792.8 LI
In a small, desperately poor village in north-east China, a young peasant boy sits at his rickety old school desk, interested more in the birds outside than in Chairman Mao's Red Book and the grand words it contains. But that day, some strange men come to his school - Madame Mao's cultural delegates. They are looking for young peasants to mould into faithful guards of Chairman Mao's great vision for China. The boy watches as one of his classmates is chosen and led away. His teacher hesitates. Will she or won't she? She very nearly doesn't. But at the last moment she taps the official on the shoulder and points to the small boy. 'What about that one?' she says. This is the true story of how that one moment in time, by the thinnest thread of a chance, changed the course of a small boy's life in some ways that are beyond description. One day he would dance with some of the greatest ballet companies of the world. One day he would be a friend to a president and first lady, movie stars and the most influential people in America. One day he would become a star: Mao's last dancer, and the darling of the West
About Li Cunxin
Li was the sixth of seven brothers, born into poverty in the Li Commune near the city of Qingdao in the Shandong province of the People's Republic of China. At the age of eleven, Li was selected by Madame Mao's cultural advisors to attend the Beijing Dance Academy. In 1979 he joined Ben Stevenson's Houston Ballet company as an exchange student and later went on to achieve the top rank of Principal in 1982. He moved to Melbourne in 1995 with his wife, dancer Mary McKendry, to join The Australian Ballet as a Principal Artist. Li retired from dancing in 1999, at the age of 38, but maintained his strong ties to the ballet community. Before taking on the role of Artistic Director at Queensland Ballet, Li worked in Melbourne as a senior manager at Bell Potter, one of the largest stockbroking firms in Australia. He is currently on the board of the Bionics Institute, and until his appointment as the Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet, he sat on the board of The Australian ballet, which he joined in 2005.
In 2003 Li published his international best-selling autobiography Mao's Last Dancer, which has received numerous awards. The book was adapted as a feature film in 2009.