Determination and embracing change with Li Cunxin Pt 1 and 2

Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin talks to Your shout about his journey from poverty-stricken peasant in rural China to a world-famous ballet superstar.

Li Cunxin was just 11 years old when he was taken from his poverty-stricken village near Qingdao in north-eastern China and whisked away to study ballet at Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy.

It was the beginning of a remarkable journey that would result in Li defecting from China to America and becoming one of the most renowned ballet dancers in the world.

This week, almost 45 years since he was forced to leave his family behind, Li was named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Queen’s Birthday honours for distinguished service to the performing arts as a dancer and artistic director.

“I never thought I would have been recognised with such an honour,” Li said.

“I would like to think the personal honour they have bestowed on me is really a recognition for all artists, all the people who work tirelessly in the arts world making a difference to our society.”

Li said the arts profoundly changed the course of his life.

“I did not choose ballet, ballet found me, which was a very lucky thing for me, because I never thought as a peasant boy that arts and ballet were ever meant to be part of my life,” he said.

It was during a lengthy and painful ballet audition process as an 11-year-old that Li realised he had been presented with a rare opportunity to change not only his life, but that of his family.

“That audition that day made me realise that it could be my one and only chance to escape, to get out, and perhaps one day I could come back to rescue the rest of my family,” Li said.

“The best hope was if I gained freedom.”

Listen to part one and two of Li Cunxin’s story on Your shout below.

Your shout is available on Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple iTunes and RACQ Living.

Visit Queensland Ballet and Noosa! alive for more on Li's upcoming performances.