As the Queensland Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream cast prepares to dazzle Melbourne audiences at Her Majesty’s Theatre next week, TDL was lucky to catch up with its artistic director Li Cunxin, a Chinese-Australian former ballet dancer turned stockbroker. Li, himself, is a renowned ballet dancer, bestselling author, keynote speaker, mentor, innumerable awards winner, and famously the inspiration of the film Mao’s Last Dancer, based on his autobiography. VATSALA GURUNATH reports.
A man of many talents
Q: You have many roles for one man on stage and off stage, and mentioned in one of your earlier interviews that your favourite role on the stage is that of Romeo from Ben Stevenson-directed Romeo & Juliet. Which of these roles do you enjoy playing the most and why?
A: I would have to say that my role as a Father is by far the most rewarding and impossible to match. I love my children unconditionally and would do anything for them. They are my greatest legacy and I’m already so proud of them. It’s always been a priority of mine to instill in them the values that I hold dear and that my parents taught me. I hope they will be able to carry on those values and be part of making the world a better place.
Q: Having lived in China, America and now, Australia, you have grown across three diverse continents. While these countries have played an important role in your life, what are the influences from each of these places that reflect in Li Cunxin today?
A: China is where my roots and foundations are and where my parents instilled a set of principles and values in life and made me realise the importance of love. The Beijing Dance Academy taught me discipline, resilience and work ethic and that has made me who I am today. America gave me freedom and opportunities. That wonderful country gave me the sense that the sky was the limit and it’s where my dance career really took off. Australia is the county I now call home. I’ve always felt an incredible sense of belonging here. It’s also the country that allowed me to have a second chance at contributing to the artform I love so much – ballet.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Principal artists Laura Hidalgo and Victor Estevez. Photo: David Kelly.
Mao’s Last Dancer ballet
Q: We have read and watched in awe your early life in China in ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’, will we get to watch a ballet performance that is composed of such a diversity, staging the different facets of China, America & Australia inspired by your experiences in each country?
A: Stay tuned… for there to be a ballet based on Mao’s Last Dancer, I’d have to be able to assemble the ideal creative team.
Q: Dance is also the artistic form of mobility. It takes you places, it moves you physically, emotionally and spiritually. For a philosophical person like you, is dance akin to travelling to a good place?
A: Indeed, ballet is one of the most powerful artforms that evokes real emotion and gives people magical experiences. It touches both the dancers and audience on so many levels. As a dancer you’re constantly challenged physically, artistically, emotionally and musically. I do believe that ballet never leaves you once you’ve been a professional dancer, it’s in your blood forever. For a dancer the studio and the stage really are sacred spaces.
Q: As an international ballet dancer, you have travelled far and wide. Tell us about your favourite travel destinations and why?
A: Of all the places I’ve visited throughout my life, I would have to say the South of France and Italy have both had the most profound impact on me when I performed and visited there. I’ve never found any place quite like them and I’m consistently drawn back to the beauty, culture and history of both places – it’s all consuming and intoxicating.
Learning through cultures
Q: You have always mentioned that “art is about creating magic and miracles in everyday life.” Travel is an opportunity to go and witness such magic and miracles, would you agree?
A: Yes, absolutely – some of my most memorable experiences and discoveries have come through travel and experiencing different cultures. I love the feeling of being challenged and stretched in a different culture or environments, one can learn so much about oneself in a different country.
Q: In Australia, Melbourne was your first city of residence. Now, living in Brisbane, do you get nostalgic when you visit Melbourne? What are your favourite things about Melbourne and do you have any particular favourite places to visit?
I love Brisbane but do miss Melbourne from time to time. I love Melbourne’s arts and culture and food scenes, there’s such a diversity and variety. My favourite place in Melbourne would have to be The Arts Centre – It’s always such a cultural hub and I’ve spent so many wonderful times there with dear friends and family.
“Arts like ballet play such an important role in our society especially in today’s world where so much entertainment caters to those shorter attention spans. I believe in the importance of artforms that take people on a journey, that challenge and inspire. I think it’s important to step away from the distractions of the rushed world that we live in, to seek out deeper meaning, and to challenge our thinking. Ballet can take people to unique places and enrich lives.”
Midsummer Night’s Dream
Q: Your team – the Queensland Ballet – is bringing the much loved ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ ballet to Melbourne. What is it about this timeless Shakespearean classic that makes it so special?
A: Liam Scarlett’s beautiful choreography brings so much to this timeless story that still has strong relevance to our society today. The ballet is set to gorgeous music and has enchanting sets and costumes that make the Shakespeare story come to life.
Q: In times of decreasing attention spans, a sustained art form like ballet and classics like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are important in reawakening the artistic, spiritual and cultural ethos of our society, we thank you and your team at The Queensland Ballet for playing this role. Do you want to share any words of advice for our readers on what can we collectively do to preserve and sustain the various arts that enrich us as a nation?
A: Arts like ballet play such an important role in our society especially in today’s world where so much entertainment caters to those shorter attention spans. I believe in the importance of artforms that take people on a journey, that challenge and inspire. I think it’s important to step away from the distractions of the rushed world that we live in, to seek out deeper meaning, and to challenge our thinking. Ballet can take people to unique places and enrich lives.
Queensland Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, proudly supported by Suncorp, will be at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne from October 3-7. Purchase tickets here.